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India's partnership with Afghanistan is multi-dimensional
Ramananda Sengupta in New Delhi | November 19, 2006 01:12 IST
Addressing the 2nd Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan, in New Delhi on Saturday, Dr Singh emphasised, "Dealing with this challenge is a collective responsibility."
Following is the text of the prime minister's address on the occasion:
"It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all on the occasion of the Second Regional Economic Co-operation Conference on Afghanistan being co-hosted jointly by India and Afghanistan.
I would especially like to welcome His Excellency President Hamid Karzai and the members of the Afghan delegation. We are, as always, happy to see you, Excellency, in India, and my colleagues and I look forward to working closely with you and your team to make this a successful Conference.
Afghanistan's progress from years of war and civil strife towards a functioning democracy is truly remarkable. It is in no small measure, Mr President, the result of your wise and enlightened leadership.
The Regional Economic Co-operation Conference is based on a vision that countries of our region must also contribute to the assistance programs in Afghanistan.
At the Kabul Conference, the regional countries had come together to adopt the Kabul Declaration, noting that a strategy of development for Afghanistan which is based on cooperation with regional countries created significant possibilities for reducing poverty and for achieving the London Compact benchmarks and Millennium Development Goals.
The present Conference must be an occasion for careful and honest stock-taking, assessing how far we have come since then and what further we can do. But in the larger sense, I do hope that as a result of the outcomes of this conference we will be able to reaffirm the international community's stake, responsibility and renewed commitment to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. And I wish to assure you of India's commitment to play a leading role in this co-operative effort.
We believe that peace and prosperity in Afghanistan are of vital interest not only to the people of Afghanistan but for the wider region and the world as a whole.
India shares your vision of Afghanistan as a country at the crossroads of Central Asia, West Asia, China and the Indian sub-continent. The admission of Afghanistan to SAARC was, therefore, a natural development.
We look upon Afghanistan not only as a valued member of the South Asian fraternity but also as our gateway to the west. This is yet another link of Afghanistan to what has traditionally been its largest market � India. As SAARC moves forward to developing a free trade area and other shared economic activities, Afghanistan will stand to gain considerably.
Notwithstanding the remarkable transformation that has taken place in Afghanistan over the last five-years, Afghanistan still faces many challenges. We are concerned at the increasing terrorist violence in certain parts of Southern and South Eastern Afghanistan, that has not only undermined the security of Afghanistan but hindered the ongoing development effort as well. Dealing with this challenge is a collective responsibility.
The themes identified for the present conference covering energy, transport, business and agriculture are wide-ranging. The Conference must attempt to develop an integrated blueprint for reconstruction that builds on national capacities in these critical areas while developing beneficial linkages with the region at large.
A land-locked country with difficult terrain presents its own set of challenges. The development therefore of the transport sector and its regional linkages is vital for the opening up of the economy of Afghanistan. Simultaneously, measures will need to be taken to facilitate trade and cross-border movement of goods and services, to minimise transaction costs and to harmonise regulations and practices. These measures will not only increase legitimate trade, which today is over-shadowed by cross-border smuggling, but also enhance sense of security.
Agriculture, which is the mainstay of more than 80% of the people of Afghanistan, must be one of the key pillars in any reconstruction effort. Rapid development in agriculture through extension activities, technological inputs and efficient water management will undoubtedly revitalise the economy. It will also build up alternate livelihood opportunities. India has been active in providing technical and other assistance in this area and also assisting local communities with small development projects.
I sincerely hope that businessmen who have come here for the Regional Business Conference will recognise that Afghanistan's business climate has vastly improved. I am confident that the Conference will highlight the country's improved infrastructure, strategic location and resources and the pro-business environment that prevails in today's Afghanistan. We keenly look forward to the outcome and recommendations of their deliberations tomorrow.
Nothing is more important in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, as President Karzai always reminds us, as human resources development. Institutional strengthening, capacity building and training must be stepped up in government, in other organs of democracy such as the legislature and the judiciary and in the economy. India has been contributing in this regard not only through traditional programmes of ITEC but also through innovative public private partnerships such as the "Skill Building Initiative" in cooperation with the Confederation of Indian Industry.
Our partnership with Afghanistan today embraces a multi-dimensional cooperation programme in keeping with the priorities fixed by the Afghan government themselves. We stand ready to respond to the needs of the Afghan people in a manner that reflects the fund of friendship and goodwill that exists and binds our two peoples.
Today, India is undergoing a process of transformation of its own and we hope to be able in the years ahead to sustain high growth rates of 8 to 10% per annum. Our vision of prosperity, however, is not limited to India but encompasses our region as a whole. I am convinced that sustained economic growth in India will have a positive impact on our neighbourhood and vice versa. The natural economic linkages, which once governed this region in the pre-colonial era, will be re-discovered and the process of economic development will transform the nature of political discourse in this region.
We have a vision of bringing freedom, dignity and prosperity to the people of Afghanistan through a cooperative venture, which unites together all countries in the region in a collaborative effort.
At the end, I would like to emphasise that whilst the focus of this conference is Afghanistan, the outcome of this Conference impacts us all throughout the region. India as a close and friendly neighbour of Afghanistan has a particular interest in the success of this process.
I am hopeful that the decisions of the Conference will be directed at concrete issues that will provide templates for regional cooperation and help identify opportunities for the mutual benefit of all countries of our region.
We have shared a common past. In an age of globalisation, as borders begin to lose their relevance, we should pledge to work towards a shared future of economic cooperation and regional prosperity and a better life for the people of Afghanistan.
With these words, I wish the Conference all success."