Khurshid lauds Afghan leadership, says strong Afghanistan a priority for India
Describing the Afghan leadership as 'extraordinary' and 'brave', External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Saturday said a strong, prosperous and economically independent Afghanistan is a strategic priority for India.
Lauding the Afghan leadership, Khurshid said, "These elections are a testament to the fact that democracy has taken firm roots in this country. It is also a testament to your extraordinary and brave leadership over the last 12 years, and the manner in which you have nurtured the plant of democracy in this country."
Speaking at the inauguration of the Afghanistan National Agricultural Sciences and Technology University (ANASTU) in Kandahar, Khurshid said, "Like in India, today no one can predict the eventual election result in Afghanistan. Many of the Presidential tickets that will fight elections represent political and democratic alliances between groups that one could never imagine will one day become allies in an electoral battle."
"For developing countries like ours, where the vast majority still remain dependent on land for subsistence and their livelihood, the agriculture sector has to play the role of a driver of economic growth and development. We cannot afford to continue with a subsistence level agriculture sector, or an agriculture sector that relies on traditional methods of cultivation. India's experience has shown that the use of modern technology, high yielding variety of seeds, drip irrigation, modern processing and marketing transforms the agriculture sector into a 'lucrative industry'. You only have to visit the state of Punjab or the grape fields of Maharashtra to see this. This magic of modern technology is almost always created in Universities like the one that has emerged in Kandahar, and which we are inaugurating today," he said.
He asserted that for India, a strong, prosperous and economically independent Afghanistan is a strategic priority and a key element of our Strategic Partnership agreement.
"We therefore see our participation in this Agriculture University project as an important activity of the India-Afghanistan strategic partnership. We will prioritize our assistance programs to favor agriculture and agricultural development activities. We already have 614 agricultural scholarships for Afghan students who are presently being trained at Indian agriculture institutes, many of whom I hope will one day return as professors to this University," he said.
He said that India has always differed from the many armchair "international experts" on Afghanistan, who say that that the main challenge for Afghanistan's future is its heterogeneous character, its ancient tribal society, and it's many different ethnicities.
"India is also ancient, and is also heterogeneous, and these have always been our strengths. We have never doubted that this has also made Afghanistan strong," he said.
Khurshid also said that the main threat to Afghanistan's security and its internal stability is terrorism and extremism that continues to target the people of Afghanistan.
"We too have been facing this threat for many years, and understand the importance in times like these of friends and strategic partners forging the closest of cooperation to defeat this evil scourge," he added.
He further said that India is and will always be with Afghanistan, in the battle against terrorism and extremism.
"I wish to salute the brave men and women of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) who despite the lack equipment and the shortage of resources continue to win the battle of terrorism. They have truly emerged as a national force, that unifies the whole of Afghanistan," he added.
"We are indebted to the efforts of these brave soldiers who continue to make great efforts protect Indian aid workers and our diplomatic premises in Kandahar and cities," he said.
He also said that the ANSF has an important role to play in this year of political and security transition in Afghanistan.
"The international community must fulfill its pledges to ensure that the plans to rebuild the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are fulfilled. India will continue to assist the ANSF in whatever manner is possible within our capacities. We have always said that a peaceful, prosperous and sovereign Afghanistan that is capable of defending itself is in India's strategic interest," he added.
"We support your efforts to establish a genuine Afghan owned, Afghan led and Afghan controlled Reconciliation process in Afghanistan. To offer a chance to members of armed opposition groups willing to give up terror and abide by the Afghan Constitution, the possibility of participating as equal citizens in Afghanistan's national life," he said.
He asserted that Afghanistan and Kandahar in particular has the potential of becoming an economic hub for the entire region.
"We continue to tell the international community that it is a grave mistake not to pay attention to the equally important process economic transition that must also take place in Afghanistan, along with the political and security transitions," he said.
Terming Afghanistan as a resource rich country, Khurshid said: "It has a unique geography that allows it to connect the markets of the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and China. It has one of the most hard working and enterprising people. But one of the lessons we have learnt as a lead country of the "Trade Commerce and Investment CBM" in the Istanbul-Heart of Asia process is that for Afghanistan to fully exploit its economic potential, it must improve its connectivity with its neighbors."
He also emphasized that many roads and critical infrastructure is required for Afghanistan to play the role of regional trading hub are already in place.
"We need today effective transit arrangements between Afghanistan and its neighbors to connect it with these large markets," he added.
(Posted on 16-02-2014)