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India to continue work on projects aiding Afghanistan’s economy: S Jaishankar

Addressing the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process meeting in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar said durable peace in Afghanistan requires a “genuine ‘double peace’” – which he elaborated as “peace within Afghanistan and peace around Afghanistan.”

“It requires harmonising the interests of all, both within and around that country,” the minister said at the meeting that was also attended by Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. India views Pakistan as the main backer of the Taliban and forces opposed by Kabul and New Delhi. Since the Taliban was ousted from Kabul in 2001, India has pledged and undertaken relief and rehabilitation projects worth $3 billion in a bid to shore up goodwill for New Delhi that was once viewed as on the side of invading Soviet troops.

The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process is a regional initiative of 15 countries, including China, Russia, Iran and Central Asian states, to ensure regional security, economic and political cooperation centered on Afghanistan. The first conference was hosted by Turkey in November 2011.

“As the lead country on Trade, Commerce and Investment CBMs under the HoA-IP (Heart of Asia, Istanbul Process), India will continue to work on improving Afghanistan’s connectivity with the outside world,” Jaishankar said.

“Projects like the Chahhabar Port in Iran and the dedicated Air Freight Corridor between the cities of India and Afghanistan are part of our efforts. I am glad to note the keen interest of our friends from Central Asia to be a part of these initiatives,” he said. The aim of the two initiatives is to increase trade between landlocked Afghanistan and other countries, leaving it less dependent on Pakistan.

India’s backing for a regional process on Afghanistan convened by the UN – first suggested by US secretary of state Antony Blinken in a letter sent to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in February – came in the backdrop of New Delhi being kept out of other processes such as a recent meeting convened by Russia to bring peace to Afghanistan.

In his speech Jaishankar said, “India welcomes any move towards a genuine political settlement and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan. We appreciate the international recognition of foundational principles that will determine their contours.”

“We support a regional process to be convened under the aegis of the United Nations. UN stewardship would help to take into account all relevant UN resolutions and improve the odds for a lasting outcome,” he added.

The UN convened peace talks, expected soon, was first proposed by the US in a letter sent by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in February. The UN meeting is to be attended by foreign ministers and envoys of Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the US.

In his remarks, Jaishankar said the situation in Afghanistan continues to be a “cause for grave concern,” with violence and bloodshed being “daily realities” and the conflict itself showing “little sign of abatement, whatever may be the promises.”

Noting that the past few months have witnessed an escalation in targeted killings of civil society, he said the year “2020 sadly marked a 45% increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan over 2019″, with 2021 not looking “very much better.”

“The continued involvement of foreign fighters in Afghanistan is particularly disturbing. Heart of Asia members and supporting countries should, therefore, make it a priority to press for an immediate reduction in violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” he said.

Jaishankar described as a “collective imperative” ensuring Afghanistan was free of terrorism, violent extremism and drug and criminal syndicates. “A stable, sovereign and peaceful Afghanistan is truly the basis for peace and progress in our region,” he said.

India has supported all efforts to accelerate dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, including intra-Afghan negotiations, and attended the inaugural virtual session of the Doha talks last year, the minister said.

“If the peace process is to be successful, then it is necessary to ensure that the negotiating parties continue to engage in good faith, with a serious commitment towards reaching a political solution,” he added.

Ahead of the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia process, Jaishankar held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani late Monday. He also met his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif and discussed bilateral cooperation, including for Chabahar port.

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