Indo-Afghan relations: A Perspective on Political, Economic and Security Situation in Afghanistan

The Honorable Prashant Girbane,

Dr. Dilip Padgaonkar,

Excellency’s

Distinguished Media Representatives

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me to thank the International Center for inviting me to have a dialogue with you today. This is my second time to visit this beautiful City of knowledge and multicultural diversity, where more than two thousand Afghan students are busy studying and learning. I do look forward to many more visits to Pune in the future, and maintaining a regular working relationship with the Pune International Center.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Indo-Afghan relations are multidimensional rooted in centuries of shared history, shared civilization, and shared cultural and traditional commonalities. The last decade of Indo-Afghan relationship is only a continuation of our centuries-old ties, ties that have been tested time and again, and proven to be solid as rock and deep as ocean. Even though our governments naturally understood the depth of our ties and capitalized on them to work with one another on the reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan, we took another joint step forward to formalize our understanding of Indo-Afghan shared destiny.

In October 2011, our two governments signed the Afghanistan-India Strategic Partnership Agreement, the very first such Agreement we have ever signed with any of our near or extended neighbors in the region. The people of Afghanistan overwhelmingly endorsed this historic Agreement, encompassing comprehensive cooperation between our two nations. More specifically, the Agreement provides for security and defense, political, socio-economic, and cultural cooperation between Afghanistan and India, along with relevant mechanisms of implementation.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The overarching mechanism of implementing the Agreement is the Council for Partnership chaired by our two Foreign Ministers, who met in New Delhi last year. As we speak, we are now working on forming joint working groups along the sectors, which I mentioned, to set our shared priorities, based on the objectives of the Agreement, in line with the National Priority Programs of Afghanistan. This effort is aimed at building upon the $2 billion in critical assistance, which the people and government of India have so generously provided Afghanistan with, in the last 12 years.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

With the support of India and the international community, we have made significant progress in the area of political development. Over the past decade, we have systematically built or r ebuilt the central and local institutions of the state. Our state institutions have increasingly gained the capacity to deliver basic services to our people across the country.  India has been an integral part of this journey of ongoing success, and has built the Parliament of Afghanistan, a national project of immense importance and a sign of India’s firm commitment to institutionalization of democracy and peace in our country.

In the area of economic growth, India is leading the implementation of two regional confidence building measures (CMBs) to further expand regional commerce and trade with Afghanistan, as well as promoting and facilitating cross-border regional investment in Afghanistan. This vital economic effort by India stems from our shared interest in results-oriented economic cooperation towards an integrated region where everyone would prosper.  Moreover, India has made significant contributions to construction or reconstruction of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, which has boosted our economic growth.

We are thankful to India for the building of the Zaranj-Delaram highway, connecting Afghanistan internally and with Iran’s Chahbahar port, giving us an alternative route to sea for easy and unhindered movement of goods.  As a result of the combined assistance of the international community, including that of India, the World Bank recently reported that our real GDP growth rose from 7.3 to an estimated 11.8 in 2012, while inflation dropped to 6.4 percent. And we are confident that India’s $11 billion investment in the minerals sector of Afghanistan would further enable us to grow a productive economy, slowly helping us achieve economic self-reliance in the years to come beyond 2014.

It is worth mentioning that there are numerous investment opportunities in every sector in Afghanistan. Last June at the Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan, our Ministry of Commerce and Industries presented to potential investors a detailed list of “Investment Opportunities in Afghanistan,” which is available online. At the Summit, we informed some 320 participating business representatives of 25 different markets for investment in the following sectors:

  • Energy
  • Minerals
  • Transport
  • Agriculture
  • Small and Medium-Sized Industries
  • ICTs, Finance, Health Services, and Construction

With the exception of a few “first movers” in each of these sectors and their related markets, most of our markets remain under-invested. The government of Afghanistan, in partnership with our allies, frequently encourages regional and international investors to visit Afghanistan and see for themselves the countless, highly profitable investment opportunities in the country.

Last November, President Karzai focused his State Visit to India on encouraging the Indian business community to explore investment opportunities in Afghanistan. Meeting with a group of business leaders in Mumbai, the President even promised to roll out a red carpet for major Indian firms, if they made a move to enter Afghanistan’s virgin markets.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the area of security and defense, we have an expanding relationship with India. India has firmly committed to Afghanistan’s long-term stabilization well beyond 2014. Our shared desire to expand bilateral security and defense cooperation stems from the prevalent threat of narco-terrorism in the region.

We need to enhance our security and defense cooperation, and hold strategic consultations against any impending offensive conventional or unconventional threat to our two countries’ national security interests. The Afghanistan-India Strategic Partnership Agreement provides for such proactive security and defense cooperation between our two countries, and we stand ready to do our part in partnering with India to ensure a more stable and peaceful region, one where zero-sum calculations are permanently replaced by win-win cooperation in the region.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the areas of social development and cultural cooperation, Afghanistan has made notable progress, and India has played a seminal role in these two important sectors in the last 12 years.  More than 6,000 Afghan students are busy studying across India, thanks to the 500 scholarships, which the Indian government annually provides us with. The expertise and skills developed through this partnership with India has already helped fill many capacity gaps across the public and private sectors in Afghanistan.

We have also benefited from India’s contributions to the health-care sector. This includes medical services and equipment through the reconstruction of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health in Kabul, as well as the provision of free medical consultation and services to over 30,000 Afghans monthly, through Indian Medical Missions in five Afghan cities.

I can confidently say that the level of people-to-people contacts between Afghanistan and India is unprecedented. Aside from thousands of Afghan students studying in India, nearly 1,000 Afghans daily visit India. Most visiting Afghans are patients, seeking medical treatment at the Indian private hospitals. This means that stability in Afghanistan, with the assistance of India and the international community, has paid off in various ways: in our patients being treated at home or India, in our two countries’ ties further growing, and in the financial ability of our people directly contributing back to India’s rising economy in the region. Indeed, this is the kind of win-win relationship Afghanistan seeks with every one of our near and extended neighbor, and we are thankful to India for supporting this noble effort without prejudice across our much promising region.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’d like to conclude with a caution, however. Afghanistan’s gains of the past 12 years in the sectors, which I discussed, remain fragile. Above all else, the consolidation of our shared gains require regional leadership and ownership, and India is best positioned to work with us and our common allies to lead the stabilization and sustainable development of Afghanistan in the years following the withdrawal of international troops. At the same time, we welcome increased regional dialogue among India, China, and Russia, each with an interest to see Afghanistan stabilize, so that the region’s agenda of economic cooperation can be fully realized.

With that, I thank you and look forward to your questions.



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The Maulana Azad Academy,
New Delhi - February 21, 2013

 

Guests of Honor,

Secretary General Qasmi,

Distinguished Scholars,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

I am truly honored and humbled to share the stage with some of India’s leading statesmen and scholars to remember and remind ourselves of the legacy of the great Maulana Azad. I would like to thank the Maulana Azad Academy for organizing this major International Seminar on the legacy of an eminent personality, and for inviting me to be a part of it.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Last November here in Delhi, HE President Karzai gave a lecture on “A Maulana for Our Times.” The President eloquently highlighted some of Maulana Azad’s notable lifetime achievements, which reflected the challenges and tribulations of the era in which he lived, led by example, and spearheaded a principled, just struggle to achieve greater peace, harmony, and prosperity in the whole Subcontinent.

 

Through multiple roles as a writer, poet, educator, theologian, politician, and a shrewd diplomat, Maulana Azad promoted and strove to instill in the societal mindset such timeless values as humanism, unity, tolerance, and co-existence.

 

He understood and interpreted religion—as it is divinely intended—to be a guide for humanity to internalize the above values and to lead a life infused with moral virtues, compassion towards one another, and self-restraint against harming others. Maulana Azad embodied these values in his lifetime struggle for the freedom and independence of India, a legacy that will live on and is frequently celebrated, as we do today.

 

Indeed, Maulana Azad did not just preach. But he employed the medium of education as a non-violent means to mobilize, organize, and prepare people towards achievement of institutionalized peace, freedom, pluralism, and democracy in the Subcontinent. He firmly believed that if this were achieved, every citizen’s rights—regardless of race, creed, or color of skin—would be automatically ensured and protected.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

The thirst for acquiring literacy and education has never been as widespread in our plural, diverse society for the same reasons and causes, which Maulana Azad championed. I am delighted to tell you that Afghanistan is one of the key beneficiaries of Maulana Azad’s legacy. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), which Maulana Azad founded, enables hundreds of Afghans each year to acquire education in different fields across India.

 

The education, which young Afghan men and women have obtained in India over the past 11 years, is directly strengthening the institutions of democracy, while fueling Afghanistan’s economic growth. At the same time, educating young Afghans in India has brought our peoples even closer to one another, in the spirit of the vision of Maulana Azad, who vehemently opposed social distance, disunity, or division.

 

I have no doubt that the many interactions Afghan students have with young Indians immensely contribute to mutual cultural understanding, as well as to an awareness of our two nations’ many commonalities and shared interests. This should naturally offset the effects of artificial barriers promoted and propagated by the self-defeating forces of radicalism and extremism—which the absolute majority of the Subcontinent peoples reject.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

I think one of the key legacies of Maulana Azad is his utter rejection of using religion as an “instrument of political power and not what it is—a value system meant for transformation of human soul.” Failure to heed this timeless and universal legacy has already affected the stability and prosperity of our region. In turn, this has prevented the unlocking of the vast human and natural resources potential of the Subcontinent to ensure prosperity for all.

 

Indeed, the consequences of neglecting his legacy are clear in the twin problems of extremism and terrorism that unfortunately find institutional support in our region. Terrorist attacks in the name of religion continue to kill and maim dozens of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and the region. Indeed, this is a manifestation of what Maulana Azad had warned about to come, if Islam were used to promote political and strategic goals in the region. This directly runs counter to the teachings of the Holy Quran and deeds of Prophet Muhammad (PBU), which the great “Maulana Azad for Our Times,” frequently made clear.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Let me conclude by saying that at no time is the legacy of Maulana Azad worth revisiting as much as now to address the many challenges confronting our region. I look forward to the insights of other distinguished speakers into the legacy of Maulana Azad, and wish you a very successful Seminar in the next couple of days.

 

Thank you.