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Don't give up on Afghanistan, India tells US

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | March 24, 2009 12:22 IST
Last Updated: March 24, 2009 12:27 IST

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Former Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] Special Envoy Shyam Saran, has said the principal concern that India has vis-�-vis Afghanistan, that it should be allowed to once again relapse into a cockpit of terrorism.

Saran, during an interactive session that followed his keynote address on the US-India civilian nuclear deal at The Brookings Institution in Washington, asked by the think tank's president Strobe Talbott to talk about a concerted US-India role in Afghanistan and how to thwart the threat of terrorism emanating from there, said, "We have already suffered from that and anything which seems to lead to once again Afghanistan becoming a kind of base for jihadi terrorism, is something that would be very worrisome to India."

"Therefore, we have given our full support to the consolidation of a multi-party democracy in Afghanistan. We feel that it can and should be a multi-ethnic society, a plural society backed by the United States and India," he said.

Saran said he did not believe that "we should give up so easily in Afghanistan, which sometimes seems as if there is a level of frustration and a kind of rejection about the ways things are going on in Afghanistan."

He said, "I think there are many good things that have happened in Afghanistan," and spoke to India's contributions toward some of these positive outcomes, particularly in the areas of economic and social rehabilitation and reconstruction. Saran pointed out that India had "invested more than $1 billion in Afghanistan," which was no small amount considering that India wasn't a very affluent country, but that these investments in education, infrastructure and health "has had a very positive impact in Afghanistan."

Thus, he reiterated that many positive things were happening in this beleaguered country "and we hope the United States will not give up so easily in terms of the long-term political stability and economic recovery in Afghanistan. It has always been our case that if you focus attention too much on just the security side and not on the development side, there can't be any type of progress," he said.

Saran said if President Obama [Images] is able to bring about that balance in US policy and put much more "effort on the social and economic side, I think that would be welcome as far as India is concerned."

Meanwhile, the senior Indian official pointed out that India has always maintained that the international war on terrorism "cannot be segmented, which means you cannot give all the priority to (fighting) al Qaeda, lesser priority to Taliban [Images], and even lower priority to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba [Images].I am afraid that over the last several years, they have all fused together into one network," he said, and warned that "to once again play this game of segmenting this war against terrorism, we will end up with the same kind of mistakes that were made in the past."

Saran also asserted that it is imperative to "recognize that in terms of the challenges that we are going to face there, is the great challenge within Afghanistan itself," and also within Pakistan. "And, unless, we recognize that the origins of much of the problems that we are facing is within Pakistan itself," the war on terror could not be adequately executed.That needs to be confronted, and the civilian, democratic set up there (in Pakistan) needs to be consolidated�needs to be supported."

Saran said if the US makes the mistake of once again going "in the direction of looking at certain individuals, or the Army, or the ISI as the instruments of delivering �a victory in the war in Afghanistan," that would be counterproductive and futile. "You need to perhaps have a much more nuanced approach in this regard," he said.

"To the extend, in the engagement with the United States, we have the opportunity to share our perspective in Afghanistan and the region with the United States, we would be very happy to do so," he said, and added: "We believe that we have very convergent interests in the region."

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