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Address by Prime Minister to the Joint Session of the Parliament of Afghanistan

May 13, 2011

I am overwhelmed by the honour given to me today to address the joint session of the Parliament of Afghanistan.

I am conscious that this is a rare honour given to a foreign leader. I am humbled by this gesture of love and affection for India.

You, the Honourable Members of the Wolesi Jirga and the Meshrano Jirga, represent the magnificent diversity, hopes and aspirations of this great and ancient land.

I bring to you the greetings and good wishes of the people of India.

Honourable Members,

Afghanistan is a country richly endowed in culture, heritage, architecture and natural resources.

Afghanistan has been a centre of civilization. It has given to the region and the world the richness of Dari and Pashto literature, the Sufi traditions of the Chistis, the legacy of the Buddha and Buddhist art in Bamiyan, the Gandhara School of art and much more.

Afghanistan has been the junction between South and Central Asia and a gateway to India.

Our ties of history and culture go back many millennia.

The founder of the Mughal Empire Emperor Babar lies interred here in his favourite garden in Kabul.

In his brilliant reign of five years, Sher Shah Suri built the Grand Trunk Road from Kabul to Delhi. This facilitated the traditional exchange of religious ideas, the carriage of goods, travellers, kings and commoners. Kagazi badams and Kandahari anars are well known delicacies in India.

Bacha Khan, who was known as the Frontier Gandhi because of his friendship with Mahatma Gandhi, was laid to rest in Jalalabad according to his wishes.

Our forefathers have bequeathed to us a rich heritage of social, cultural and political ties. These civilisational connections have tied together our traditions and faiths and our terrain and temperament.

As leaders and representatives, we have the sacred duty to strengthen and enrich these bonds forged by our people over centuries.

I have come to Afghanistan to renew these ties of friendship, solidarity and fraternity. This is the only agenda that I have come with. This is the only agenda that the people of India have in Afghanistan.

Honourable Members,

Afghanistan has undergone great trials and tribulations. But we know that the Afghan people are proud, brave and fiercely independent. We know that they are strong and resilient in the face of adversity. These are qualities widely admired in India.

In the ten years since it decided to turn its back on the past and face the future, Afghanistan has made significant progress in many areas. There are undoubtedly many challenges ahead. The process of nation building is long and full of hurdles. National reconstruction needs sustained hard work and sacrifice and is a process of learning.

Our two countries face similar development challenges. India is ready to partner the Afghan people as they rebuild their country in accordance with their own priorities and national circumstances.

Many of Afghanistan’s priorities are also our priorities. Many of your problems are also our problems.

We fully support the vision of a secure, prosperous and democratic future for Afghanistan outlined in the National Priority Programmes initiated by the government of Afghanistan.

Our experience of policy implementation in India has been that participative democracy is a vital agent of social and economic empowerment at the grassroots. It has brought in more transparent and accountable governance. The Afghan parliament already has reservation for women. We have found that similar reservation in local bodies in India is creating a new dynamic of development with a human face.

School enrolment in your country has increased from 1 million to 7 million since 2002 and enrolment of girls has doubled over the past four years.

I know that it is your topmost priority to put every child in school and keep him or her there. In India the mid-day meal scheme has been very successful in our schools. We have been supplying fortified biscuits to Afghan school children for the last few years.

But what we teach our children is equally important. In India we have recently overhauled the school curriculum. What children learn in school should be related to their lives outside it. They should imbibe a sense of nationhood and values of tolerance and respect for others. They should be taught about the importance of the environment. Education should stimulate and open their minds to creative thought and imagination. The hopes and dreams of our nations rest on the little shoulders of our children. So we need to teach them well.

I know that Afghanistan has made strides in providing health care to its people over the past decade. We would be happy to strengthen the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health and the work of our medical missions in different provinces.

Building infrastructure is another challenge. We have tried to provide such assistance as we could to provide electricity and roads in Afghanistan.

I am happy that the transmission line built from Pul-e-Khumri is now bringing a steady supply of electricity to the capital.

I am happy that the sacrifices made in building the Zaranj - Delaram highway have not gone in vain. The population of Zaranj has increased. Trade is thriving and customs revenues have grown.

Honourable Members,

The people of India feel privileged to see their development cooperation receive such a warm welcome in Afghanistan. Nothing would give us greater satisfaction than to see Indian resources being utilized for more roads, more electricity, more schools, more hospitals or more community projects - activities that directly benefit the common Afghan people.

We will increase development outlays towards capacity building and skill development. This will include more scholarships for Afghan students for studying in India, institution building efforts, social development and higher investment in the health sector by way of a medical package. We will provide buses for Kabul and other municipalities.

We propose to upgrade the agricultural department at the Kabul University to an agricultural university, donate tractors to farmers and give scholarships for the study of agricultural sciences.

We will significantly enhance our commitment for the Small Development Projects Scheme across provinces to further facilitate development at the grassroots with the involvement of local communities.

We will help in the preservation and revival of Afghanistan’s archeological and cultural heritage and restoration of the historic Stor Palace in Kabul.

The total outlay on these and other additional initiatives that we will take in consultation with the government of Afghanistan in the next few years will amount to 500 million US dollars. This will take our total commitment of assistance to around 2 billion US dollars.

Honourable Members,

Our ambitions and aspirations for growth and prosperity cannot be realized unless there is peace and tranquility that will allow our people to live and work in honour and dignity.

I pay tribute to all those innocent men, women and children who have lost their lives in the search for a better tomorrow. The people of India feel and share the pain and suffering of their Afghan brothers and sisters.

Terrorism and extremism are alien ideas to our people. They bring only death and destruction in their wake. They provide no answers to the problems of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and disease. They have no place in a civilized society. Eventually, our centuries old traditions of peaceful co-existence, of living in peace and harmony with each other and with nature will prevail over these deviant ideologies. We cannot and must not allow the flames of extremism and terrorism to be fanned once again.

Afghanistan has embarked upon a process of national reconciliation. We wish you well in this enterprise. It is up to you, as the peoples’ representatives, to make decisions about your country’s future without outside interference or coercion. This is your sovereign right. India will respect the choices you make and the decisions you take.

Our only interest is to see a stable, peaceful and independent Afghanistan living in peace with its neighbours.

We hope that Afghanistan will be able to build a framework of regional cooperation that will help its nation building efforts.

As Afghanistan moves towards assuming full responsibility for its security, we stand ready to widen our cooperation in this area.

Honourable Members,

The people of this region have lived together for centuries. This is our region and we have to survive together and flourish together.

While the international community can help, ultimately it is the people of the region who must take charge of their own future.

We have to learn to solve our problems ourselves. This is the lesson of history.

Honourable Members,

Afghanistan’s entry into the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation was a historic step. We must invest and work together for our common future. The countries of South Asia have been most prosperous and stable when they have been well connected to each other and the world. Geography and history make it imperative that we cooperate to realize our common destiny.

If we are to build a common regional identity, we need to learn more about each other. I have often said that we know more about the countries of the West than we do about each other. That is why it is very important to multiply our people to people contacts.

Honourable Members,

Yesterday, President Karzai and I have agreed on a Declaration of Strategic Partnership.

We have agreed to reinvigorate our relationship in all sectors on the basis of mutual respect and mutual equality.

This will be a long term partnership. Its main pillars will be greater political interaction, a comprehensive economic partnership, a trade development strategy, a social development strategy, an agricultural outreach strategy, a cultural development strategy, and a civil society strategy. A Partnership Council will be set up under the two Foreign Ministers.

I would especially like to underline the decision to enhance people to people exchanges, including between intellectuals, youth, women and the media.

Parliamentary exchanges are extremely useful and helpful. I would suggest for your consideration the formation of an India-Afghanistan Parliamentary Friendship Forum.

We will revitalize links between our business and trading communities so that Afghanistan’s economy can fully benefit from India’s economic growth.

Honourable Members,

I am happy that the people of Afghanistan are emerging from the ravages of war and rebuilding the country as a peaceful home for the confluence of cultures, for commerce and development and where the countries of the region cooperate rather than compete with each other.

As an abiding friend, India will always stand by you in this noble task. We have always stood by our Afghan friends and I want to reaffirm that we will do so in future as well.

I once again thank you for giving me this great honour of sharing some of my thoughts with you.

I am deeply grateful to President Karzai for his personal friendship, and thank the people and Government of Afghanistan for the warm hospitality extended to me during my stay in this beautiful country.

Long live India-Afghanistan friendship

May 13, 2011


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