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Statement by M. J. Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process in Baku, Azerbaijan (December 1, 2017)

December 01, 2017

H.E. Foreign Minister of Afghanistan,
H.E. Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan,
Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege for me to represent India at this august gathering. I thank our hosts, and co-Chair of the Process this year, Azerbaijan, for their gracious hospitality and excellent arrangements.

It gives me particular pleasure to be in Baku, a historic and beautiful city redolent of the glories of the past even as it transforms itself into a model for the present and future. It is living evidence that tradition and modernity can flow from the same gene-pool. Baku, with its Ateshgah, was a landmark presence on the silk route that connected our people across centuries. To me, as an Indian, the presence of Devanagari and Gurmukhi scripts in inscriptions are reminders of how Indians were a mainstay of trade and multi-cultural synthesis across this artery through Afghanistan and the lands of the Caspian and the Caucasus.

India is proud of its association with the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, which, since 2011, has emerged as a unique multilateral platform for discussing and analysing the challenges in and around Afghanistan. The search for solutions has many dimensions, but diplomacy and dialogue must surely be at the top of our priorities if, as we profess, we seek a peaceful resolution of a crisis with such complex angularities.

Last year, in the holy city of Amritsar, the theme of this Process was 'Addressing Challenges, Achieving Prosperity'. We had identified the twin problems of insecurity, inspired by terrorism, and lack of connectivity as the two major obstacles on the road to resolution. But our efforts need sincerity, without which the process becomes a charade.

This year, the theme is 'Security and Economic Connectivity towards a Strengthened Heart of Asia Region', which is a continuum of our discussions last year, when we had the honor to co-chair the process.


Last year, our Finance Minister, as co-Chair, stated unambiguously, that for India 'the issue of connectivity for Afghanistan is not a mere talking-point'. We act, irrespective of connectivity hurdles placed between India and Afghanistan. We have, in a literal sense, risen above arbitrary and unwanted barriers, seeded by incomprehensible ill-will and cemented by breathtaking short sightedness. I am happy to report to this distinguished gathering that over the past year, India and Afghanistan have operationalized an 'Air Freight Corridor'. 47 flights have already ferried thousands of tons of fresh fruit, dry fruits and spices from Afghanistan to Indian markets. In September 2017, India signed Motor Vehicles Agreement with Afghanistan, thus further removing any legal problems over movement of vehicular traffic between us. We are already fully prepared to receive Afghan export laden trucks in India at Atari Integrated Check Post at zero duty rates, provided route access is not denied by an intervening country.

Separately, we have taken steps towards operationalization of Chahbahar port by sending 170,000 tonnes of Indian wheat to Afghanistan via this newly developed sea-lane. The first consignment reached Zaranj in Afghanistan on 11 November, within only 11 days, from India. This is an example of regional cooperation involving India, Iran and Afghanistan.

We describe Afghanistan, correctly, as the Heart of Asia. This has been its vantage across the centuries, from an era that drifts back to the days of pre-recorded history. But what do we do when a deliberate attempt is made by one of its neighbors to choke an ancient and vibrant artery to this heart?

Afghanistan has the undeniable potential to emerge as the land-bridge between various parts of the vast and dynamic Eurasian landmass. India extends its fulsome support and wishes to partner various on-going projects for physical and economic connectivity to and through Afghanistan. Projects like the TAPI gas pipeline, TAT railway line, Ashgabat Agreement, CASA 1000 are particularly promising. In this context, we wholeheartedly welcome the signing of the Lapis-Lazuli Corridor Agreement in Ashgabat a couple of weeks ago.

However, I must emphasize that best benefits will accrue only when trade and transit agreements involving Afghanistan become fully inclusive, comprehensive and, most importantly, are fully activated. I also wish to stress that while India supports various trans-national projects, they must strictly respect the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Recognizing the close linkage between trade and investment with physical connectivity, India has taken the initiative of becoming the Lead Country for the Trade, Commerce and Investment Confidence Building Measure (TCI-CBM) within the Heart of Asia Process. Under the aegis of this CBM we have regularly been organizing various activities, including the hosting the Regional Trade Group (RTG) Meeting in New Delhi in August 2017. The TCI-CBM trade portal, which has been designed as a single window for sharing information on trade, commerce and investment opportunities in the Heart of Asia region, was soft launched at that meeting.


On the bilateral front, recognising development cooperation as the key pillar of a strategic partnership, and noting the very positive impact of projects implemented under India’s US$ 2 billion development and economic assistance to Afghanistan, both countries agreed to initiate an ambitious and forward looking next generation ‘New Development Partnership’ for utilization of India's additional commitment of US$ 1 billion announced by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016. As per the priorities set by the Government and people of Afghanistan, both sides agreed to take up 116 High Impact Community Development Projects to be implemented in 31 provinces of Afghanistan, including in the areas of education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydropower, sports infrastructure, administrative infrastructure. Soon, there will be multiple projects in each of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, all designed to improve the quality of life of the people. The Afghan people are at the centre of our efforts; they must be at the heart of Heart of Asia.

We have announced several new capacity building and infrastructure projects such as the Shahtoot Dam & drinking water project for Kabul city, low-cost housing for returning refugees in Nangarhar Province, road-connectivity for Band-e-Amir, a polyclinic in Mazar-e-Sharif, a gypsum board manufacturing plant in Kabul; but this is only a glimpse of a much larger horizon.


While several countries, including India, have striven hard to improve the socio-economic and security situation inside Afghanistan, a certain neighbour of Afghanistan has consistently chosen violence, extremism, disruption and deceit as its only contribution to the region. While many concerned members of the international community have invested billions of dollars in the search for peace, prosperity and stability in Afghanistan, one nation is investing in death, destruction and destabilization. When we discuss Afghanistan’s security, we cannot do so without recognising that the fountainhead of violence in Afghanistan is nurtured in the city of Quetta, which has become the biggest sanctuary and export-hub of terrorism. Afghanistan‘s people and government are at war with a force whose leadership lives not only outside the borders of Afghanistan, but also outside the laws of humanity. They continue to thwart our collective efforts, in pursuit of narrowly defined and warped geo-theological priorities. It is time to call a spade a spade. We must send a consistent and firm message to those who sponsor, arm, finance and supervise terrorism and violence from beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Security in Afghanistan is going to be a difficult proposition as long as sponsors of mayhem and chaos are not held accountable. The world is watching. The world knows the truth, particularly when evidence is plain and plentiful. The world cannot remain silent, for silence is an invitation to continued havoc.

India welcomes the growing determination and international consensus against terrorists and their supporters. The issue of State support for safe havens and sanctuaries has been identified as the key impediment to peace and resolution in Afghanistan. We also welcome action against opium factories, in the effort to disrupt and destroy are the nexus between narcotics and terrorism.


The saga of Afghanistan, to use an appropriate phrase for this conference, is both heart-breaking and heart-warming. On the one side are the perpetrators of remorseless violence and terrorism. Last year was one of the most violent since 2001, with several thousand Afghans being killed or maimed. This year has also been tragic, with large scale attacks across the country. Neither the terrorists nor their backers have changed their ideology or objectives.

But on the other side is the heroic courage and conviction of the Afghan national security forces and the Afghan people. We, in India, have a special respect, admiration and adulation for the bravery and commitment of Afghans. They are not just fighting for their country, but for the entire region.

It is our collective duty to offer something far more than lip service to these men and women who defend civilisation and the highest values against barbarians. Sponsors of terrorism should understand that this evil will swallow them tomorrow if they feed it today. There is no good or bad terrorism; all terrorism is evil, as our Prime Minister avers consistently and constantly. ISIS/ Daesh, Taliban, Haqqani network, Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad etc. are all terror organisations and equal on the scales of menace.

We support all efforts for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace and reconciliation process. Clearly, cessation of violence is the first and critical step; talks cannot be sustainable in the blood-soaked fog of terrorist war. The peace process must also respect and recognise the plurality and diversity of the Afghan Constitution and its promotion of rights of the women and children.

I would like to once again thank our hosts for providing the opportunity to deliberate on how we can promote peace, security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan. If peace comes to the Heart of Asia, the body politic of Asia will be at peace.

Thank you, Excellencies, for your attention.

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