Describing Afghanistan as a traditional friend and a partner of India, visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said New Delhi views Kabul as a possible driver of Asia's economic growth in the future, besides accepting it as a strategically important neighbor with whom there are historical, cultural and economic ties that go back to the dawn of history.
Participating in a meeting of the Istanbul Process here, Khurshid also praised the Governments of Afghanistan and Turkey for shepherding this important process since its inception in November, 2011 in Istanbul, "and bringing it to its present avatar, where it ranks as the most inclusive regional process that is centered on Afghanistan."
Reiterating India's commitment to Afghanistan's stability and development, Khurshid said the Istanbul Process is a testimony to the promise of regional confidence-building, cooperation and political consultations over Afghanistan.
He said he was pleased to be joining others in sharing the vision of the declaration that has been adopted.
He said India's vision of the Heart of Asia process is one of trade, transit, energy and communication routes criss-crossing and knitting the entire region from Turkey to India and other countries of South Asia, and between Eurasia and the Arabian Sea, with Afghanistan at its heart.
"We do not see Afghanistan as merely a bridge or a roundabout connecting these regions, contributing only as a transit route, but as a possible driver of economic growth in the region with development of its human resources; its natural endowment including minerals and hydrocarbon resources," the External Affairs Minister said.
"It is with this long-term vision in mind, that India has taken a number of initiatives starting with our Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan. Our focus has been on economic empowerment of Afghanistan," he added.
Citing examples, Khurshid talked about the elimination of basic customs duties on all Afghan products, thus giving Afghanistan the benefit of preferential access to the 1.2 billion Indian market; India's planned investment in the Hajigak iron ore mines with the intention of not only evacuating iron ore, but also constructing Afghanistan's first steel plant; the Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan of June, 2012, and a new thrust on bilateral and regional trade and investment.
He said that India's leadership of the Trade, Commerce and Investment opportunities CBM within the Istanbul Process is rooted in the belief that Afghanistan will experience lasting peace only if short-sighted perceptions of competition and strategic depth are replaced by collaboration and economic investment in Afghanistan by countries of the region and the rest of the world.
"India does not see Afghanistan as a zone of competitive influence and wants it to be an area of opportunity for regional cooperation," the minister said.
He, however, said that there were political and security issues that stand in the way of realising this long-term goal.
"We have no doubt that the greatest challenge posed to vision of Afghanistan is the persistent threat of terrorism that emanates from beyond its borders. Other countries of the region, especially India, are not immune to this threat. An honest commitment to the principles enshrined in this declaration today will have to begin with an acknowledgment of the rising dangers posed by these forces of extremism and terrorism to the future of Afghanistan and the wider world as Afghanistan approaches critical transitions," Khurshid said.
"We recognize that the solution to Afghanistan's problems cannot be purely military, but has to be rooted in a political approach that enjoys a democratic sanction," he added.
He concluded by saying that the "Heart of Asia" process offers an invaluable opportunity to evolve a joint approach on issues of mutual concern through its pillar of political consultations.
"The process offers us the opportunity to fulfill the promise of regional cooperation that was identified at Istanbul, Kabul and Delhi and further elaborated in the deliberations on the Implementation plan of the Trade, Commerce and Investment Opportunities CBM that India is leading," he said.
Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Erlan A. Idrissov, his Afghan counterpart Dr. Zalmai Rassoul and Mr. Jan Kubis, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General were among the others who were present on the occasion. (ANI)