It can become driver of economic growth, says Khurshid at Heart of Asia meet

India’s vision of Central Asia or the “Heart of Asia Process,” as it is being called, is one 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 said here on Friday.

He was addressing an audience comprising over a dozen of his counterparts from Afghanistan and surrounding countries, besides 16 senior officials from countries which are not neighbours but have extended support for this process 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 mines was meant not only to evacuate iron ore but also construct Afghanistan’s first steel plant, he said.

Mr. Khurshid reminded the audience 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.

Taking a swipe at Pakistan, Mr. Khurshid said the greatest challenge to Afghanistan was the persistent threat of terrorism “from beyond its borders.” Other countries of the region, especially India, were not immune to this threat.

The Minister stuck to his formulation though this stance was at variance with what Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in his opening address. “The threat of international terrorism and religious extremism is still an important regional challenge. Afghanistan remains a source of terrorist and extremist activities, including those in neighbouring countries,” he had said while calling on participating countries to take this fact into consideration.