Excellency, Mr. Erlan A. Idrissov, Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan,
Excellency, Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,
Mr. Jan Kubis, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be here today in the beautiful city of Almaty for the Ministerial Meeting of the Istanbul 'Heart of Asia' Process. I would like to thank the Government of Kazakhstan for the warm hospitality extended to me and to my delegation,
and to the Afghan and Turkish governments 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.
It is, indeed, a tribute to Afghanistan's leadership that we are gathered here today joined by our commitment to Afghanistan's stability and development and our faith in its future. It is also a testimony to the promise of regional confidence-building, cooperation
and political consultations over Afghanistan exemplified by the Istanbul process. It therefore gives me great pleasure to join others in sharing the vision of the Declaration we shall be adopting today.
Afghanistan is a traditional friend and partner of India. It is a strategically important neighbor with whom our historical, cultural and economic ties go back to the dawn of history. 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. But 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.
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- witness the elimination of basic customs duties
on all Afghan products giving Afghanistan the benefit of preferential access to the 1.2 billion Indian market; our planned investment in the Hajigak iron ore mines with the intention of not only evacuating iron ore, but 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.
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
While striving for realization of this vision, we however do not have any illusion that, we can ignore political and security issues that stand in the way. 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.
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. We are also glad to note that there is wide-spread agreement that an acceptable solution can only
be one that comes from within Afghanistan and finds its sustenance from the respect for Afghan society and its institutions.
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 also 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 & Investment Opportunities CBM that India is leading. The endorsement of the Implementation plan today is an affirmation
of that shared ideal.
Reflecting on progress since the last Ministerial on the Istanbul Process in Kabul ten months ago, we can be satisfied with some progress we have made. I look forward to further deliberations with all of you who are Afghanistan's friends from across the world
today. I am also hopeful that we will be filled with an even greater sense of achievement when we meet a year later at the next Ministerial in 2014.