I have great pleasure in welcoming my colleague and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan H.E. Mr. Salahuddin Rabbani,who has kindly accepted our invitation to participate in this very historic First India-Central Asia Dialogue.
Both India and the countries of Central Asia have had sustained and enriching contacts with Afghanistan over centuries. Goods and people have travelled freely over centuries back and forth between India and Central Asia through Afghanistan.
We have shared interest in enduring peace, stability and security in Afghanistan.
India supports the people and the Government of Afghanistan in their efforts to build a united, sovereign, democratic, peaceful, stable, prosperous and inclusive nation. India supports all efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan which are inclusive and Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.
These efforts should preserve the gains of the last 18 years. The violence and terror imposed on Afghan people should end. It should strengthen unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
India is extending development assistance to Afghanistan of over US$ 3 billion, focused on reconstruction, infrastructure development, capacity building, human resources development and connectivity.
Under the ‘New Development Partnership’ launched in September 2017, new projects are being taken up:
(i) Shahtoot Dam, a drinking water project for Kabul city;
(ii) low-cost housing in Nangarhar province;
(iii)116 High Impact Community Development Projects and (iv) a host of other infrastructural development projects.
Over 3500 Afghan nationals are trained and receive education in India every year.
You would all agree that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, which lies at the Heart of Asia, can be a bridge to connect Central Asia with South Asia.
Our mutual desire to contribute to
(i) the common developmental goals of our region,
(ii) to bring progress and prosperity to our peoples and
(iii) to share the benefits, that may accrue, will be furthered if there is a greater connectivity in the region.
While geographically Afghanistan and Central Asia are landlocked, there are several ways in which India, Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries can join hands to work on promoting connectivity in the region so that trade and commerce may flow between us and our people to people exchanges may prosper.
In this context, I would like to mention that the joint efforts of India, Iran and Afghanistan have led to the development of the Chabahar Port in Iran as a viable and operational trade route to connect to Afghanistan and potentially to Central Asia. Chabahar provides a shining example of what strong partnership can achieve to overcome any obstacles.
We have already sent a very substantial quantity of wheat to Afghanistan using the Chabahar port. Last month, the Indian company opened its office and took over operations at the Shaheed Behesti port at Chabahar.
We are looking at developing the Chabahar-Zahedan railway link which would bring us close to the Zaranj-Delaram road link which India has already built in Afghanistan.
At this forum, I have the pleasure to inform you that Iran is holding the Chabahar Day International Conference on 26 February at the Chabahar port to introduce to the invited delegations the capacities of the port.
I would urge that apart from official delegations, countries should encourage participation of representatives of shipping companies, freight forwarders, port development organizations and other stakeholders to make it a grand success.
India has been desirous of promoting multiple options of connectivity in the region.
India has been admitted to the ‘Ashgabat Agreement’ last year which aims at establishment of an International Transport and Transit Corridor between Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
India is thankful to President of Uzbekistan, H.E. Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, that during his State Visit to India in October last year, he stated that Uzbekistan will become a member of International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC). The growth of eastern spurs of the INSTC will specially bring benefits of connectivity to the countries of Central Asia.
I understand that Kazakhstan has developed the dry port of Khorgos and made trial runs of railways to connect Khorgos and the Bandar Abbas port in Iran.
There is scope for other connectivity initiatives in the region, complementing each other in providing the promise of more efficient transit of goods between India and Central Asia.
We are pleased to know in this regard that Uzbekistan has built a rail link between Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif.There is the prospect of this railway link being further extended to Heart.These projects, along with many other options, which are being pursued, have the potential to bring improved connectivity in the region.
India’s accession in 2017 to the Customs Convention on International Transport of Goods under cover of TIR Carnets will help in achieving seamless connectivity and further reduction in transit time and transportation costs.
From August 2018, FICCI, a leading chamber of commerce in India, has been authorized to issue TIR carnets. India-Afghanistan-Iran have agreed to facilitate cargo movement through Chabahar Port using TIR carnets.
The TAPI project, which aims to bring gas from Central Asia to India is another example of regional cooperation, which needs to be encouraged. Trade transit routes must be economically viable.
Let us look at these ideas comprehensively and explore ways of funding infrastructure gaps wherever they exist.
India believes that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency, and equality.
They must follow principles of financial responsibility and must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.
We also propose serious examination of all issues in order to establish air freight corridors between India and Central Asia.
An air corridor is already operating successfully between Afghanistan and India. We would like to organise a ‘Dialogue on Air Corridors’ with the participation of civil aviation authorities, air freighters and aviation companies of India and Central Asia so that goods, including perishable items, can be transported efficiently and swiftly.
Improved transport and connectivity in the region will ultimately benefit our peoples. This will also bring much-needed benefits to our Afghan brethren.
I look forward to a stimulating discussion in the session ahead, which will bring out many practical ideas.
I thank you all, Excellencies.
January 13, 2019