Heart of Asia meet: India stresses on connectivity

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New Delhi, April 26 (IANS) India on Tuesday called for improving connectivity in the region to help Afghanistan harness its trade and transit potential.

“Connectivity in the region has to be the centrepiece of all our efforts to enhance trade, commerce and investment among regional countries,” Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh said in his inaugural address at the senior officials’ meeting of the Heart of Asia Istnabul Process that is aimed at bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“Better connectivity can enable more investment and private sector participation. It can help fully harness Afghanistan’s trade and transit potential,” Singh said.

Th meeting was originally scheduled to be addressed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. However, Singh replaced her after she was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here on Monday night with fever and chest congestion. Her condition is now reported to be stable.

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Besides India, the Heart of Asia initiative involves 13 other countries — Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz republic, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Of the six confidence building measures (CBMs) in the initiative, India leads the trade, commerce and investment opportunities (TCI) CBM, which is implemented by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) under the guidance of the external affairs ministry and the department of commerce.

In his address, Singh said that connectivity would also also serve to tap Afghanistan’s vast natural and human resources.

“Afghanistan can emerge as a hub of regional trade and energy arteries,” he said.

“Afghanistan, Iran and India are waiting to develop trilateral transit through Chahbahar in Iran. India is also willing to avail of other regional and trans-regional connectivity initiatives such as the North-South Transport Corridor and the Ashgabat Agreement.”

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Singh said that the TCI CBM that India headed was aimed at more regional economic interaction and cooperation.

“The objective is to create conducive conditions for Afghanistan to thrive on trade and not depend on aid,” he said.

“Creating more employment opportunities is also important to wean youth lured to narcotics, extremism, terrorism and other criminal activities. More jobs and economic avenues in Afghanistan would create the conducive conditions for Afghans to stay and contribute to its development.”

According to Singh, better regional economic connectivity will help bring growth and prosperity to millions of people in the region.

“Better connectivity means more prosperity and more peace and stability,” he said.

He stated that the situation in Afghanistan, owing to its location at the Heart of Asia, has enormous bearing on regional peace, security and economic growth.

“For our stable and prosperous region, a strong, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan is an imperative,” the minister said.

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“Such an Afghanistan will be a bridge of connectivity between east and west, and central and south Asia. That is what Afghanistan was, as history tells us, and therein lies our future.”

Singh said that to achieve progress and prosperity together, the countries of the region needed to address the challenges together.

“This is not only in Afghanistan’s interest, but in the interest of the whole of the Heart of Asia region,” he said.

Acknowledging the role of Afghanistan’s leadership in steering the country through a difficult and challenging phase of witnessing multiple transitions, he said: “These challenges are made all the more daunting amidst violence unleashed on the Afghan people. We are confident that the efforts of the leaders and the people of the Afghanistan will ensure peaceful, democratic and inclusive governance for the whole of the country.”



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