Nirupama Rao: 'Our focus in Afghanistan is on development'

Last Updated: Sat, Feb 27, 2010 18:40 hrs

Let me turn to our neighbourhood. From India's perspective, the goal of ushering in a peaceful, stable and prosperous neighbourhood is predicated on enabling each of our neighbours to pursue the shared objective of the development of our peoples. We do not see this as a zero sum game but as a co-operative endeavour, requiring collaboration rather than confrontation, so as to enable each of our neighbours to grow.

We do not see this as a compulsion but as a natural choice voluntarily made; a corollary of the inter-dependent world we live in. We believe that our strengths place us in a unique position to actively support the socio-economic development in our region.

The greatest threat to peace and stability in our region emanates from the shelter terrorists find in the border of Afghanistan-Pakistan and in Pakistan itself. The recent international approaches to Afghanistan, in particular the London Conference last month, are focusing on security and reintegration, development, governance and regional and international co-operation.

We believe that any integration process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led, and should include only those who abjure violence, give up armed struggle and terrorism and are willing to abide by the values of democracy, pluralism and human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.

Afghanistan is centrally placed to emerge as a trade, transportation and energy hub connecting Central and South Asia. The international community must work together to realise this potential. Growing economic interdependence would complement efforts to promote peace and prosperity in the region.

India is an important neighbour of Afghanistan and we share undeniably close ties that have endured through the centuries into present times. Our focus there is on development activity with the aim to build indigenous Afghan capacities and institutions. This will enable an effective state system to improve the delivery of goods and services to Afghan people.

Our assistance, now over $1.3 billion (Rs 6,000 crore), is spread over a large number of provinces in Afghanistan. We are constructing Afghanistan's new Parliament building, a symbol of our common commitment to pluralism and democracy. At the recent London Conference, we have announced new initiatives in the agriculture sector and in institutional capacity building.

Our relationship with Pakistan is complex. Out of our desire for peaceful and good-neighbourly relations with Pakistan, we have repeatedly taken initiatives in the past to improve the relationship. You are aware that the dark forces of terrorism sought to erase the good that stemmed from such well-intentioned initiatives. We are now making another attempt of dialogue with Pakistan.

However, calls of jihad, hostility and aggression continue to be made openly against India. This reflects the real and tangible difficulties that we face in dealing with Pakistan. If the process of normalisation that we desire with Pakistan is to be sustained and taken forward, effective action against such groups by the government of Pakistan is an absolute must.

Under pressure and faced with the threat of terrorism in its own country, Pakistan has initiated some steps to fight this scourge. But these steps are selective. Distinctions between Taliban, Al Qaeda and terrorist outfits such as LeT are now meaningless, since they are now in effect fused both operationally and ideologically.

With Sri Lanka, our political relations are close, trade and investment have increased exponentially, and there is broad-based engagement across all sectors of bilateral co-operation. We view the conclusion of the military operations against the LTTE as providing an opportunity to finally achieve a lasting political settlement acceptable to all communities within a united Sri Lanka.

Our relations with Bangladesh have acquired further substance and scope in recent months, particularly after the very successful visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in January this year. Our security related co-operation has developed positively as also our co-operation in infrastructural development in Bangladesh, for which we have announced a $1 billion (Rs 4,600 crore) concessional Line of Credit.

(Excerpts from Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's address to the Third MEA-IISS Seminar on 'Perspectives on Foreign Policy for a 21st Century India' on February 22, 2010)