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Statement by Shri M.J. Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs at Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan (March 27, 2018)

March 27, 2018

Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan: Peace Process, Security
Cooperation & Regional Connectivity
27 March 2018

Excellency Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov,
Excellency Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani,


Friends, Navrozmubarak. May its spirit of hope, renewal, peace and prosperity prevail over our peace conference. It is my privilege to lead my country's delegation to this historic and beautiful city of Tashkent.

I thank our Uzbek friends for their generous hospitality, and above all for making this regional initiative towards a prosperous, plural Afghanistan. Conflict born of extreme radicalism can be contagious,it is in our combined interest to eliminate it, so that Afghanistan and its neighbours can pursue the objectives of peace and prosperity for their people. Prosperity is impossible without peace and the greatest contemporary threat to peace is terrorism. We seek the peace of the famed Afghan garden and glen, not the dead peace of a graveyard. We cannot lose sight of the horizon during the travails of the journey.

Our Afghan brothers and sisters are being denied both rights and opportunity by fear and violence. They are victims of ideological extremism and brutal terrorism, often sponsored from beyond their borders, for reasons that they do not always understand, by elements trapped in regressive doctrine and cynical interests. We in India are profoundly troubled by the continuing suffering of our Afghan brethren, a tragedy that has crossed generations. This has to change.

There can be neither solution nor resolution without principled commitment to law, to democracy as the basis of order and to human rights. At the centre of human rights is gender emancipation: the right of women to equality, education, social assertion and full participation in the economic and political life of Afghanistan. These rights are the standard bearers of the 21st Century. Without them the negotiating table will be an arid retreat towards regression rather than a platform for progress.

Friends,

There is a common misapprehension that Afghanistan has suffered social stagnation since 2001 because of conflict. This is not true. We must applaud the courage of Afghan leaders and people who have nurtured change and advance in the most difficult circumstances.

There has been significant improvement in several key socio-economic indices of Afghanistan. Agirl child born in 2001, now 17, has received education and now dreams of a better future. There has been an eight-fold increase in student enrollment from fewer than 1 million students in 2001 to more than 8 million students enrolled in schools in 2016, more than a third are girls; nothing could be better news.Thanks to the efforts of the Afghan Government and support of the international community, better education, nutrition and healthcare have percolated to grassroots levels. It is our responsibility, each one of us, to protect this young Afghan girl for she is the symbol of change we want to see. We cannot abandon these gains in search of a political settlement. A smile of hope on the face of the girl child is the peace we yearn for.

India deeply appreciates the vision shown by our Uzbek brothers towards finding such a real and sustainable peace. The emancipation and progress that we see on the streets of Tashkent is what we must protect and preserve on the streets of Kabul.

Our conference today is also a testament to the abiding commitment to an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled peace and reconciliation process. This Conference should be able to build upon the platform work done under various other multilateral fora such as the Kabul Process, 6+1, ICG, Moscow format, Heart of Asia Process, and RECCA.

Excellencies,

At the second meeting of the Kabul Process, President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah showed courage and magnanimity in inviting armed opposition to abjure violence and become a part of Afghan national mainstream. Recent terrorist attacks, including the one in Kabul on 21 March 2018, show that not everyone heard them. Terrorists can be deaf to sanity.

Peace and reconciliation are difficult objectives in an atmosphere of terror and violence. We support strong actionto pursue those who still choose the path of terrorism, aided by those who manipulate funds from an illicit narcotics trade to finance terror against innocent people.

India stands committed to any process which can help Afghanistan emerge as a united, peaceful, secure, stable, inclusive and economically vibrant nation, with guaranteed gender and human rights. We must all conform to internationally recognized red-lines. I also wish to reiterate India's willingness and keenness to engage Afghanistan bilaterally and multilaterally, in cooperation with likeminded countries and international organisations.

India has worked with principle and commitment to serve the Afghan people through capacity building, gender emancipation, human resource development, infrastructure development, connectivity, trade and investment.

India's commitment for developmental assistance to Afghanistan stands at US$ 3 billion. Last year we embarked upon the 'New Development Partnership', which will support 116 'High Impact Community Development Projects' in Afghanistan according to the priorities of the Afghan government. They include large scale projects such as drinking water for Kabul city and low-cost housing for returning Afghan refugees.

India’s other key priority is helping Afghanistan build robust, reliable and year round connectivity, improving trade and investment relations of Afghanistan with prominent markets in the region and beyond. We strongly believe that lack of connectivity directly impacts the economic, security and political situation in Afghanistan. A well connected Afghanistan can hope to become economically vibrant, prosperous and politically stable. It will be able to engage the energies of its youth, and attract back lost talent from an Afghan diaspora.

There have been significant developments in the recent months, as far as connectivity is concerned. Chabahar port in Iran was inaugurated in December 2017. The Indian grant aid of 170,000 tonnes wheat supplies to Afghanistan is currently transiting through Chabahar.

The India-Afghanistan Air Freight Corridor, established in June 2017, is another important achievement. There are now cargo flights between Kabul, Kandahar, New Delhi and Mumbai. Thus far, over 110 flights have carried over 2,000 tonnes of exports from Afghanistan to India worth over tens of millions of dollars. Encouraged, we have plans to expand this network to various other cities in Afghanistan and India.

However, terrorism and connectivity do not go together.

In his speech at the second Kabul Process meeting, President Ghani shared his most cherished memories from early 1970s when he and the Afghan first lady, as a young couple, visited various parts of Afghanistan. One could vividly visualize, through his memories, the beauty and natural resplendence of Afghanistan and the unique resilience of the people. However, one could not miss the pain and longing in his voice for thattranquil Afghanistan, full of hope. Let ustake comfort in the optimistic wisdom of MaulanaJalaluddinBalkhi or Rumi, "where there is ruin, there is also hope for treasure”. There is an example of this wisdom in today’s Afghanistan.

I am delighted to inform you that India will host the first international cricket test match played by a superb Afghan Cricket team in Bengaluru in June this year. A few days back, Afghanistan also qualified for the next Cricket World Cup. What an extraordinary, even historic, achievement of young Afghanistan, displaying the Afghan will to find treasure in ruin, to repeat Rumi. Our next objective must be to witness Test cricket in Kabul.

In 2013, I am happy to add, Afghanistan became the South Asian Football champion: yet another triumph of character, skill and youthful aspiration. On a slightly different note, I must point out that Afghanistan defeated India to win this football trophy. But we beat them in the final of the next edition of SAF in 2015. So we are what we should be: equal friends in the journey towards positive horizons.

In 2010, at the UN General Assembly, the late President Islam Karimov, a founding father of modern Uzbekistan, warned of the deep, insidious threat to peace and pluralism from terrorism. In 2017, His Excellency President ShavkatMirziyoyev has said unequivocally that security is "indivisible”: ours, rather than mine or yours. Within these bookends we can take this process forward.

I, on behalf of my delegation, wish the conference all success.

Thank you!

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