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India: terrorists cannot make us leave Afghanistan
Ramananda Sengupta in New Delhi | November 19, 2006 18:16 IST
Last Updated: November 19, 2006 19:35 IST
"The objective of these people (terrorists) is to make India withdraw from Afghanistan. We refuse to succumb to such people, and our commitment is firm."
So declared External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee at the conclusion of the two-day Second Regional Economic Conference on Afghanistan at New Delhi's Vigyan Bhavan on Sunday.
Addressing a joint press conference with Afghan Foreign Minister Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Mukherjee said that "our partnership today embraces a multi-dimensional cooperation programme in keeping with the priorities of the Afghan government," and "in doing all this we have a vision of bringing freedom, dignity and prosperity to the people of Afghanistan through the cooperative venture which unites all countries in the region in a collaborative effort."
In his address, Spanta said the main thrust of the conference -- which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai a day earlier -- was to highlight the importance of Afghanistan as a land bridge between Asia, connecting it with Central Asia and beyond.
But issues of peace and security had slowed down the development of the country, and there was an urgent need to fight terrorism, including forces which used terror as a instrument of state policy, he said.
Stressing the need for greater interconnectivity in the region in order to promote economic and political stability, he said: "We hope that Pakistan opens the road from India to Afghanistan soon."
Pakistan has consistently refused to grant transit rights for Indian goods through its territory to Afghanistan, although goods from Afghanistan can be sent through Pakistan to India.
"The recent violence is not our choice. It hurts not just us but the entire region," said Afghan finance minister Anwar Ul-Haq Ahady, who was also on the dais with Spanta and Mukherjee.
Urging the international community to "cooperate and fight this menace jointly," he said development work would be dramatically speeded up if the menace of terrorism was removed.
Earlier, Mukherjee noted that this conference was a follow up to the first conference held in Kabul in 2005, where it was decided to evolve a strategy for the development of Afghanistan "based on cooperation with regional countries."
"The present conference was intended to make the countries in the neighbourhood of Afghanistan, along with the G-8 and other international organisations, aware of the stake they have in its prosperity and to provide them the opportunity to become stakeholders in this process," he said.
Elaborating on the meetings, he said the four Techincal Working Groups had discussed electricity, trade and energy development; trade, transit and transport facilitation; agriculture and agro-processing, as well as investment and business potential.
The ministerial-level discussions had recommended the setting up of a Centre for Regional Economic Cooperation in Kabul '...for in depth and vigorous pursuit of constructive, practical and specific initiatives for regional development,' among other things, he said. Other suggestions included the need for greater private-public partnership in the reconstruction process and enhancing connectivity through aviation links, trade and transit, energy and gas linkages and financial services.
Later, in response to a question, Mukherjee said there had been no requests from Kabul for Indian forces to assist the international forces now fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, although a small contingent of Indian paramilitary forces is deployed there to protect Indian citizens working on developmental projects. "As for Indians working there, our central paramilitary forces are supplementing the protection provided by the Afghanistani forces," he said.
Mukherjee also spoke of India's interest in a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India through Afghanistan, saying it was economically viable.
Foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and several other senior Indian and Afghan officials were among those who attended the press conference.
Earlier, a senior official from a western country involved in Afghanistan had expressed her doubts about the efficacy of such meetings, saying that they overlapped with the work being done by other regional outfits like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation of which Afghanistan will become a member next year, and the Economic Cooperation Organisation, which 'aims to promote sustainable socio-economic development among member states Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.'