India's vision of Central Asia or the ``Heart of Asia Process’’ as it is being called is of trade, transit, energy and communication routes criss-crossing and knitting the entire region from Turkey to India and between Eurasia and the Arabian Sea, with Afghanistan at its heart, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told an audience comprising over a dozen of his counterparts from Afghanistan and surrounding countries besides another 16 senior officials from slightly distant countries and international organisations that have a stake in the country.
Speaking at the second follow up conference of Foreign Ministers (India counts it as the third) to the Istanbul meeting of 2011, Mr. Khurshid said it was not a purely mercantile approach that guided India’s vision. ``…we do not see Afghanistan as merely a `bridge’ or a `roundabout’ contributing only as a transit route. With its natural resources including minerals and hydrocarbon resources and development of its human resources, it could become a driver of economic growth in the region.
India’s focus has been on economic empowerment of Afghanistan. This approach led New Delhi to eliminate basic customs duties on all Afghan products and the planned investment in the Hajigak iron ore mines was meant not only to evacuate iron ore but construct Afghanistan's first steel plant. Mr. Khurshid also reminded that India hosted the Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan last year, a step South Block claims led to a new thrust on bilateral and regional trade and investment.
India though was under no illusion that it can ignore political and security issues standing in the way with Mr. Khurshid unable to avoid taking a swipe at Pakistan. The greatest challenge to Afghanistan was the persistent threat of terrorism ``from beyond its borders’’. Other countries of the region, especially India, are not immune to this threat.
The Minister stuck to his formulation though this stance had been contradicted in the opening address by President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. ``The threat of international terrorism and religious extremism is still an important regional challenge. Unfortunately, Afghanistan remains a source of terrorist and extremist activities, including those in neighboring countries,’’ he had said while calling on participating countries to take this fact in consideration.
Ignores drug trafficking
Mr. Khurshid’s speech also ignored the problem of narcotics, a major source of worry for many of Afghanistan’s neighbours, and outlined by them as the second major security related issue. ``Today, the problem of drug production and drug trafficking is among the major challenges for regional development," said Mr. Nazarbayev while calling on the 'Istanbul Process' countries to coordinate their efforts for combating this problem. On the infrastructure front, he stressed on the need for expansion of railways networks in and around Afghanistan.
The Heart of Asia conference brings together fourteen countries which are in the neighbourhood of Afghanistan. Along with them there are sixteen other countries which are not in the neighbourhood or the vicinity but have extended support for this process. Then there are several other international and regional organizations which provide support to Afghanistan.
Keywords: India-Afghanistan ties