India’s Afghan Policy: Supporting Development, Connectivity and Regional Cooperation
Indian External Affairs Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj attended the SCO High Council meet in Tajikistan on 11 October. One of the main areas on which Ms Swaraj focused during her speech at the meet was Afghanistan.
India conveyed its readiness to work closely with the SCO member States in efforts to bring peace, prosperity and stability in Afghanistan.
Ms Swaraj said, “India stands committed to a peace process which is Afghan led, Afghan owned and Afghan controlled, that can help Afghanistan emerge as peaceful, secure, stable, inclusive and economically vibrant nation”.
India is also willing to host the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group which was established with India becoming its full member. “In this context, we welcome the signing of the Protocol of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group on the sidelines of the Qingdao Summit. We would be happy to co-host with Afghanistan, the next meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, in India,” Swaraj added.
The Contact Group is active in discussing issues such as the the current situation of Afghanistan and its neighbouring regions, the reconciliation process in Afghanistan and role of SCO and measures for cooperation between SCO and Afghanistan.
In this forum in the past India has shared its perspectives on the security situation in Afghanistan, including security challenges posed by terrorism and extremism imposed from beyond its borders, extended support to the peace offer made by the President of Afghanistan to the armed opposition for talks in February 2018, need for an Afghan led, Afghan owned and Afghan controlled national peace and reconciliation in an environment free of terror and violence, continued assistance for socio-economic development based on priorities of the people of Afghanistan and ensuring greater connectivity and regional integration for Afghanistan.
Connectivity is a key element of India’s strategy to support Afghanistan’s development as well as establish geographic links to Central Asia. “India shares the desire of the SCO members for enhanced connectivity. All connectivity initiatives must be based on the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, consultations, good governance, transparency, viability and sustainability,” the External Affairs Minister said.
“I am happy to note that SCO has taken a positive step in this direction by organizing the first meeting of the Heads of Railways of the SCO Member States last month,” She added.
India is also investing in the development of the Chabahar Port complex in a trilateral agreement with Iran and Afghanistan and is hopeful of gaining a waiver from the United States for constructing a railway line from Chabahar to Zaranj on the Iran Afghanistan border. This will connect with the Zaranj Delaram highway constructed by the Indian Border Roads Organisation and the Afghan ring road. The corridor will then connect to the Central Afghanistan hub of Hajigak- Bamyan and also to Central Asian states in the North. This will be independent of the influence of Pakistan which does not allow movement of free trade through its territory to India.
The World Bank in a recent survey of economies in South Asia observed an increase in exports by Afghanistan one important factor of which was the establishment of new air corridors to India.
Regional Cooperation is another thread in India’s Afghan policy and New Delhi reiterated its support to the membership of Afghanistan in the SCO during the SCO High Council Summit.