Ladies and Gentlemen.
- It gives me great pleasure to be here on this historic occasion at the first such Conference to be held in Kabul on Regional Economic Cooperation. At the outset, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the hosts for the warm and gracious hospitality and the excellent arrangements made for this Conference. We, in India, are familiar with the Afghan tradition of hospitality, having enjoyed a relationship that is civilisational in character.
- India is fully committed to working with the people and the Government of Afghanistan to re-build this country after the devastation caused by three decades of conflict. Our partnership today embraces a multi-dimensional cooperation programme including education, health, telecommunication, transport, civil aviation, agriculture and irrigation, industry, power generation and transmission, human resource development and many other areas.
- Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit on 28-29 August 2005 and the earlier visit by President Hamid Karzai to India on 23-25 February 2005 reflect the close ties between the leadership and the people of Afghanistan and India. In addition, there are regular exchanges at the level of Cabinet Ministers and the senior officials.
- We share President Karzai’s vision of Afghanistan as the cross-roads of Central Asia, West Asia, China and the Indian sub-continent. Traditionally, trading groups connecting these regions have criss-crossed this land. The ancient cities of Balkh, Kabul, Kandahar and Herat were witness to societies that flourished along these trading routes. Afghanistan is already a member of ECO and its recent admission as a member of SAARC is a natural development, which we, in India, welcome. It links Afghanistan to what has traditionally been its largest market – India. As SAARC moves forward to developing a free trade area and other shared economic activities, Afghanistan will stand to gain considerably.
- Notwithstanding the enormous political developments that have taken place – the process of parliamentary and presidential elections, the adoption of a forward looking Constitution, the Loya Jirga process, etc in the last four years, there are many challenges yet to overcome. The problem posed by narcotics, terrorism and insecurity in certain regions in the South and the South Eastern parts of Afghanistan not only undermine the security of Afghanistan but also hinders prospects for economic development. Dealing with such challenges is a collective responsibility of all the countries of the region and those that are interested in ensuring the long-term stability of Afghanistan as a plural society.
- Afghanistan is a land locked country and this, along with its physical geography creates a different set of challenges. The development of the transport sector and its regional linkages become lifelines for the country’s economy. It is, therefore, necessary to work together, both bilaterally and regionally on the transport network so as to bring about a gradual opening up of the markets. Simultaneously, measures will need to be taken to facilitate trade and cross-border movement of goods and services, minimize transaction costs and harmonise practices. Such a development will not only increase legitimate trade which today is over-shadowed by the cross-border smuggling but also enhance security.
- Water management and water sharing are critical for the development of agriculture, which contributes nearly three-fourths of Afghanistan’s GDP. Arrangements at harnessing the river flows will lead to stabilizing the population of Afghanistan that have been displaced by the years of conflict and also open up prospects for power generation through micro-hydel projects. Another linkage of Afghanistan with its surrounding region lies in terms of power trading agreements and development of power transmission infrastructure.
- In order to promote such activities, which will anchor Afghanistan firmly in this region, suitable institutional strengthening and capacity building is also necessary.
- Today, India is undergoing a process of transformation. A society of one billion people has been developing at a growth rate of more than 7 % annually in a democratic framework. The estimates of many economic think tanks predicts an average 7.5% growth rate per annum in the next four years. Last week, speaking at the India Economic Summit, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said that “an appropriate combination of policies can raise this beyond 8% easily, and we should be targeting a 10% growth rate in 2-3 years time.” Our vision of prosperity, however, is not limited to India but encompasses our region. I am convinced that sustained economic growth in India will have a positive impact on our neighborhood. The natural economic linkages which once governed this region in the pre-colonial era will be re-discovered and the process of economic development will transform the nature of political discourse in this region.
- Mr. Co-Chairmen, we have circulated a brief report on India’s cooperation programmes in Afghanistan and look forward to working with the government and the people of Afghanistan and other like-minded members of the international community in promoting a successful outcome of this conference.
Thank you. Source