India Wednesday called for a regional framework for stabilizing Afghanistan and ruled out competition – an alllusion to Pakistan – as it pressed for collective action in combating terrorism and religious extremism.
‘India supports the aims and objectives of this Conference: to bring regional countries together on an inclusive platform to address the common challenges facing the region, and working towards cooperative confidence-building measures and solutions,’ India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said at an international conference on Afghanistan here.
The day-long conference brings together all of Afghanistan’s extended neighbours in the region to fashion a collective approach for a successful transition of the violence-hit country in the wake of planned withdrawal of all coalition troops by 2014.
The conference is focusing on the contours of international involvement in Afghanistan in view of the pullout. Among the countries participating in the conference, hosted by Turkey, are Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, China the US, UAE, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
‘Today as NATO-ISAF prepares to drawdown its combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, it is evident that Afghanistan’s regional neighbours and friends can work with the wider international community to provide Afghanistan a helping hand to assist it in the transition and beyond,’ said Krishna.
‘Afghanistan needs our assistance to build its capacity to tackle the critical challenges of terrorism including suicide terrorism, the religious extremism that fuels it, and the drug trafficking that sustains it,’ he said.
Outlining India’s perspective on ‘security and cooperation in the Heart of Asia’ as the conference is themed, Krishna said India believed in a strong, independent, sovereign, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbours.
He stressed that reconciliation on the basis of the Afghan constitution should be ‘an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-driven process.’
Opposing external interference and the need to tackle safe havens and sanctuaries for terror, Krishna stressed that security, good governance and development are critical for the future of Afghanistan. In this context, he highlighted India’s multifarious contribution to the rebuilding of Afghanistan for which it has pledged up to $2 billion in development and humanitarian assistance.
He also told the conference about a comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement India signed with Afghanistan that entails, among other things, a formal commitment by New Delhi to train thr Afghan National Security Forces.
Most importantly, amid widely-touted scenarios of a proxy war and rivalry between India and Afghanistan, Krishna underlined that India’s ‘partnership does not look at Afghanistan and the region in competitive terms’.
‘It is based on a vision of regional economic cooperation spanning all the countries in the vast theatre radiating out from the heart of Asia,’ he said.
This cooperation, he added, would be founded on trade and transit routes, railways and highways, energy pipelines and electricity networks, economic projects and cross-investments.
‘Today our investments in Afghanistan require a framework of regional collaboration for their success,’ he said.
Pakistan is said to be opposed to a regional mechanism as it may include India, whose growing involvement in Afghanistan is resented by the military-ISI establishment in Rawalpindi.
However, in a surprise move Islamabad has struck a conciliatory tone, saying it welcomed New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan.
‘All countries that can help promote peace in Afghanistan, including India are welcome and Pakistan has no problem with any country,’ Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hinna Rabbani Khar was quoted as saying Tuesday.
India’s participation in the Istanbul conference is important as it was kept out of last year’s edition at Pakistan’s behest.