Mr. Ken Weinstein, President, Hudson Institute,
Ambassador Hossein Haqqani,
Dr. Aparna Pande,
Ambassador Roya Rahmani,
Mr. Ashok Malik,
Amb. Nancy Jackson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Afghanistan Affairs,
SHARED HISTORY AND CULTURE
Afghanistan is a friend close to our heart, a valued neighbor and an important strategic partner.
The Prime Minister of India, on the occasion of India's Independence Day on 15 August 2019, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, announced his greetings to Afghanistan for marking 100 years of independence. This is the level of engagement we have with Afghanistan.
The idea of Afghanistan is ingrained in the popular Indian culture. Bagh – e Babur adorns the picturesque landscape of Kabul, where founder of the Mughal dynasty – Babur rests in peace, while tomb of the legendary poet Bedil Dehlavi blesses New Delhi.
Chishti Silsila, known for its love, openness and tolerance, has influenced Indian subcontinent in uncountable ways - from religion to literature, from ways of life to contemporary bollywood songs. The dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, India is revered by people cutting across all faiths and beliefs. The Chisti silsila (order) derives its name from a small town of Chist in Herat, northern Afghanistan.
Compassionate nature of our ties is also visible in Rabindranath Tagore's “Kabuliwala”. We are celebrating 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi, who believed in the strength of unity, and also inspired many non – violent struggles across the world. Frontier Gandhi – Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, popularly known as Bachha Khan, also believed in these ideals and made immense contribution to India's freedom struggle, working shoulder to shoulder with Mahatma Gandhi. Khudai Khidmatgar, the non violent nationalist movement started by Bacha Khan stood for the cause of people and showed the world what is a true nationalist movement of Afghans.
The crown of India – Afghanistan friendship is jewel – stubbed with many examples of such great friendships and common beliefs and our feelings are mutual.
Our forefathers have fought together against colonialism. Today we are fighting together against the common enemy – the menace of terrorism, which threatens not only India and Afghanistan, but the region and the world as well.
Understanding this commonality emerging from history is necessary to understand present relationship of India – Afghanistan. Some people want to interpret our presence in Afghanistan (also mentioned in the event description - competition with Pakistan) from the narrow lens of Pakistan, however, our ties and friendship goes beyond a 70 year old country in the middle.
Our cultural ethos teaches us that we should share the good we have with our friends and not keep it to ourselves. This is in our DNA. Unlike other country in the region, which believes in sharing “terrorism”, we believe in sharing “development partnership”.
Those students who are doing their service to Afghanistan are our cultural Ambassadors and have a bit of India in each of them.
One of the biggest dams in Afghanistan, is named India – Afghanistan friendship dam. Perhaps, it is our way of thanking Afghanistan for gifting the humanity with sufi tradition. The dam is built in Chist district in Herat.
Since 2001, India has played an active role in the re-construction and development of Afghanistan based on the understanding that social and economic development is the key to Afghanistan becoming a source of regional stability. The principal focus of India's development partnership is to build capacity and institutions in Afghanistan with a belief that political and security stability will remain fragile and non-durable unless Afghanistan attains basic level of socio-economic development.
India's assistance to Afghanistan valued at above US $3 billion. All our projects are undertaken in partnership with the Afghan government and are spread across each and every of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan in diverse fields of development including education, healthcare, infrastructure, administrative capacity, flood control, irrigation, agriculture, sports, etc.
Major infrastructure projects which have been completed:
Afghan-India Friendship Dam in Herat province,
Afghan Parliament building in Kabul,
Construction of 218 km road from Zaranj to Delaram in Nimroz province in south west Afghanistan,
Construction of 220 KV Transmission Line from Pul-e-Khumri (capital of Baghlan province) to Kabul together with sub-stations in Kabul and Chimtala (located in Balkh province).
Restoration of Storay Palace in Kabul.
These projects are a reflection of India's enduring commitment towards Afghanistan's reconstruction.
A part of our contribution to Afghan nation building, India has also been creating public infrastructure under High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs) for the use of our Afghan friends. The HICDPs cover the vast areas of social interest such as education, public health, agriculture, irrigation, local governance, women empowerment, drinking water, urban development, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydropower, television transmission, cultural arena, sports infrastructure, and administrative infrastructure.
So far, close to 400 social infrastructure projects have been completed and 150 projects are under various stages of progress covering all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.
Under our New Development Partnership, several important projects focused on developmental needs and priorities of Afghanistan have been identified for implementation including Shahtoot Dam and drinking water project for Kabul city, low-cost housing for returning Afghan refugees in Nangarhar province, among many others.
Human resource development & capacity building
Our bond of friendship is very special. It derives its strength from our people to people contacts. India has been profoundly committed towards building capacity and developing human resources in Afghanistan. Every year, India offers over 3,500 scholarships and training slots. This is in addition to thousands of Afghan government and defence personal which undergo training in India.
Probably that is the reason, India is a natural choice for Afghans to pursue higher studies and get medical treatment. In the last decade alone, over 60,000 Afghan students have completed their higher studies in India, including in medicines and are contributing to Afghanistan's nation building. They define the future of India – Afghanistan relationship.
India is committed to support Afghanistan in its journey to emerge as a united, sovereign, democratic, peaceful, stable, prosperous and inclusive nation.
PROSPERITY AND CONNECTIVITY
Connectivity forms the basis of prosperity. And as friends, we cannot stay away from each other. We are committed towards building robust, reliable and year round connectivity for Afghanistan.
Air-Freight Corridor and operationalisation of the Chabahar port have been very successful. It has directly contributed to increase in the Afghan exports to India by over 40%. Over the last two years, India has supplied 1.1 million tonnes of wheat and 2000 tonnes of lentils to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port. This has helped meet the needs of common Afghans in drought affected areas is also being routed through Chabahar port, as Pakistan is reluctant to allow transit route even for this humanitarian aid.
However, this also showed that denial of access can be overcome with our willingness and collaborative efforts. It is not necessary to surrender our policies to the negative and nuisance values of few countries. It just needs some patience and efforts to achieve what we desire if we work together.
India has emerged as the largest market for Afghan goods. So far more than 400 flights ferrying 4500 tonnes of Afghan exports have operated on the Corridor. In terms of the numbers, almost half of the total flights and cargo from the corridor have been destined for India. This has directly benefited the Afghan small farmers and exporters. This shows the potential that exists for the trade between two countries, but also is an example of what we have lost in the past on account of the policy of blockage and denial of connectivity by Pakistan to Afghan goods.
Recently, in September 2019, India in partnership with USAID hosted 'Passage to Prosperity' – a business event in New Delhi. The event saw a very good participation from both sides and this was its third successful edition.
We have gone beyond the the dream mark of US $1 billion bilateral trade last year. And we have not stopped dreaming, we are aiming higher.
India has just held the largest democratic exercise in the world in the form of its elections.
And being the largest democracy in the world, India also conducted capacity building programmes for the officials of the electoral bodies of Afghanistan.
India congratulated the people of Afghanistan for braving the threat and exercising their democratic right to vote in the Presidential elections. India wants the election results to be credible, transparent and in accordance with the due process.
Diversity is not our weakness, it is our strength. Democracy and constitutional order in Afghanistan are the major gains of the last 18 years, which are worth preserving.
The dream of peace is not easy, but is achievable. The path which leads to the dream would need our tireless efforts, disincentivising entities creating roadblocks, ensuring that the deals we are making are sustainable, the outcomes are verifiable, there is no room for any terrorist elements to create a foothold, there are no tangible or intangible infrastructures breeding terrorists; and there is no roll back of the gains from the past.
It is also important to deliver the message to terrorists that democracies do not surrender to terrorism and in the ideological battle of the 'emirate' vs the 'republic', the latter prevails.