Proposes economically linking Central Asia with SAARC

Going beyond the “New Silk Road” vision unveiled by the United States, India has proposed economically linking Central Asia with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) as that would act as a “critical confidence building measure” in a region affected by a decade of violence in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the Turkey Foreign Ministers' regional conference on Afghanistan on Wednesday, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna welcomed the first gathering of all neighbours and near-neighbours of Afghanistan and was confident that these countries would be able to assist Kabul as the NATO-ISAF prepared to drawdown its combat role by 2014 end.

India was well placed to assist Afghanistan, argued Mr. Krishna, because it was involved in all three critical requirements of that nation — security, good governance and development. But to achieve this, there must be an end to external interference in its internal affairs. Mr. Krishna drew attention to the continuation of safe havens and sanctuaries beyond its borders.

What made this conference stand out was that previous attempts were ad hoc and piece-meal, in exclusive groups of three, four or more, more often than not with different foci, and competing interests, pointed out Mr. Krishna.

SAARC market

Expanding the U.S.-led Silk Road initiative, Mr. Krishna highlighted the potential of the SAARC market and felt the cooperation linking the Indian subcontinent with Central Asia through Afghanistan “could be a critical confidence building measure.”

“The idea of linking South and Central Asia recalls the historical roots of regional trade routes. Today our investments in Afghanistan require a framework of regional collaboration for their success.” Though Mr. Krishna mentioned Afghanistan's first ever strategic agreement [signed with India] in passing, his speech focussed more on economic matters.

India, he said, had or was planning substantial investments in Afghanistan. Ingress and evacuation of investments and material was of considerable important to India. [Indian companies are frontrunners in the bid for Hajigak iron ore deposit, said to be the largest untapped mine in this part of the world. Its strategic pact also envisaged joint exploration in minerals and hydrocarbons.]

He drew attention to the greatest lacunae in the West's strategy towards Afghanistan since 2001 – neglect of the role that regional countries could play in bringing stability to Afghanistan — and endorsed the meet's aims and objectives — to bring regional countries on an inclusive platform to address the common challenges facing the region, and working towards cooperative confidence-building measures and solutions.

Setting out India's perspective on security and cooperation, the Minister argued that the international community's vision for this period of transition must take account conditions on the ground and the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces to preserve the independence and the integrity of their nation. “We also need to overcome the deficit in trust through regional cooperation, linked to a larger vision of how our region relates to the world,” he suggested.

Investments in Afghanistan requires a framework of regional collaboration

Bring regional countries on an inclusive platform