Curbing terrorism and terrorist financing in Afghanistan, and the use of trade and connectivity routes via Iran are key to regional security said India as National Security Advisor Ajit Doval chaired the first India-Central Asia meeting of NSAs and Secretaries of Security Councils in Delhi on Tuesday. The daylong meeting, which was the outcome of the India-Central Asia virtual summit held in January this year, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and agreed to have security chiefs meet on a regular basis to discuss India’s “extended neighbourhood.”
“The [Security Advisors] discussed the current situation in Afghanistan and its impact on the security and stability of the region, reiterating strong support for a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan, emphasising respect for its sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and urging non-interference in its internal affairs,” said a joint communique at the end of the meeting, adding that all the countries present had concerns about the “current deteriorating humanitarian situation” in Afghanistan and the need to ensure that terrorist groups don’t find safe haven there.
The meeting, that focussed on the situation on Afghanistan is among a number of conversations New Delhi is having this week with various stakeholders. On Monday, US Special envoy for Afghanistan Tom West met with the Deputy NSA Vikram Misri and MEA point-person joint secretary J. P. Singh, and on Thursday, U. K. PM’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Nigel Casey will hold similiar meetings in Delhi. In addition, New Delhi has intensified its engagement with the Taliban regime, with the head of the Indian Mission in Kabul meeting with its “Interim” Ministers last week to discuss restarting Indian projects in Afghanistan.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Doval said that Central Asian countries remain a key priority for India to invest and build connectivity in the region. “While expanding connectivity it is important to ensure that connectivity initiatives are transparent and participatory, with respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries,” he added, in veiled reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative which all Central Asian countries are a part of.
The joint communique emphasised the role that Chabahar Port played during the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and its “immense potential in enhancing trade and connectivity, as well as the logistics infrastructure of the Central Asian countries in the delivery of humanitarian goods to the Afghan people by international organisations.” Prior to the fall of Kabul to Taliban, New Delhi had delivered 100,000 tonnes of wheat and medicines to Afghanistan via the sea route to Chabahar port’s Shahid Beheshti terminal that was developed by India. However, in the past year, India has used the land route via Pakistan to send humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
The participants supported India’s proposal to include the Chabahar port within the framework of the International North-South Transport Corridor that connects Iran to Russia via Central Asia, the communique said and also noted Uzbekistan’s creation of the “Multifunctional Transport and Logistics Hub” in Termez that helped channel aid to Afghanistan.
The countries gathered also noted India’s special conferences involving UNSC and NMFT (No Money for Terror) on countering terror financing, Kazakhstan’s work on the International Agency for Biological Safety, Kyrgyzstan’s efforts on climate change, and the Dushanbe declaration on border security cooperation to prevent terrorist movements. Turkmenistan, which was represented by its Ambassador, made a push for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan- India (TAPI) pipeline that was launched in 2016, but has run into trouble over the Afghan conflict, and breakdown of India-Pakistan ties, and the NSAs agreed on the importance of TAPI in expanding connectivity.
The conference also spoke about the need for collective and coordinated action against the “misuse of new and emerging technologies, arms and drugs trafficking, using terrorist proxies for cross-border terrorism, abuse of cyber space to spread disinformation and unmanned aerial systems”. The communique also called for the early adoption of the UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, which India had first proposed in 1996, but has been held up for decades, primarily over differences on the definition of terrorism. India is also expected to make a push for the CCIT and other formulations on terrorism this month as it ends its two-year tenure as member of the UN Security Council.