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Concluding address by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao at the International Seminar on Peace and Stability in Afghanistan: The Way Ahead

New Delhi
October 7, 2009 

It is indeed a pleasure to be addressing this august gathering of eminent scholars and policy makers. I have followed with interest the discussions over the last two days on what must rank as one of the most critical issues facing the international community and particularly this region today. There is little doubt that success or failure in our endeavours to ensure peace, stability and development for Afghanistan has consequences that extend far beyond our own countries, or even our own generation; and there are few decisions as momentous as those the comity of nations needs to make as we recommit ourselves to assisting the people and Government of Afghanistan in realizing stability and development. 

Our understanding of the way ahead in Afghanistan has benefited greatly from the perceptive insights of the many distinguished speakers. Discussions during this conference have been significant, for they have brought together in one forum not just reputed scholars and policy makers from the US, Europe and Russia, but also those from Iran and the Central Asian Republics. We have long believed that any discussion on how best to assist Afghanistan would be incomplete unless the voices of the friends of Afghanistan are heard, voices that have a vital stake in ensuring the stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan. The challenge from a resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda is real, and it is one that threatens us all. When we speak of recommitting ourselves to helping Afghanistan defeat the forces that seek to destroy all that has been achieved since 2001, it is important to recognize that all of us have an abiding interest in the success of this endeavour. Even as interest, goals, strategies and world views may conceivably diverge on other issues, on Afghanistan there is today a convergence among those present here. We need to build on that commonality of interests and purpose, focusing on the larger picture so that we serve the cause of peace in the region.

India and Afghanistan share a strategic and development partnership based on historical, cultural and economic ties. We have an abiding interest in the stability of Afghanistan, in ensuring social and economic progress for its people, getting them on the track of self-sustained growth and thus enabling them to take their own decisions without outside interference. The binding factor in our relationship is that the interests of Afghanistan and India converge. 

In our efforts towards stabilisation of Afghanistan, the focus has been on development. Our U.S. $1.2 billion assistance programme, modest from the standpoint of Afghan needs, is large for a non-traditional donor like India. Our assistance programmes are being implemented in close coordination with the Afghan government, and are spread all over Afghanistan. They straddle all the socio-economic sectors of development: humanitarian; infrastructure; small and quick-gestation social projects; and skills and capacity development. India is the sixth largest bilateral donor in Afghanistan.

The principal objective of this effort is to build indigenous Afghan capacities and institutions for an effective governance system that is able to deliver goods and services required by the Afghan people, who have suffered years of unremitting violence.

India has five medical missions providing treatment and free medicines to over 1,000 patients every day, most of whom are poor women and children. We continue to support the Indira Gandhi Centre for Child Health in Kabul and have, only last month, connected it through a telemedicine link with two super-speciality medical centres in India. The one million tonnes of food assistance pledged in 2002 is used for providing 100 grams of high-protein biscuits to two million of the six million Afghan school-going children, a third of whom are girls. 

In the infrastructure sector, the former Minister for External Affairs and President Karzai jointly inaugurated the 218 Kms Zaranj-Delaram road in January this year. The Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul transmission line and the sub-station at Chimtala was inaugurated by President Karzai in May. This has lit up Kabul, which has round-the-clock electricity supply for the first time since 1992. We are currently engaged in the construction of the Salma Dam on the Hari Rud River in Herat and the Afghan Parliament building, a visible and evocative symbol of democracy, the construction of which is in full swing. Both projects should be completed by the end of 2011. We have simultaneously commissioned around 100 Small Development Projects, which are typically quick gestation, smaller-scale social sector projects in outlying and frontier provinces, conceived and executed by local authorities. 

For capacity development, we are providing 675 scholarships each, annually, for undergraduate and graduate students in India, and for Afghan public servants to train in Indian public training institutions for upto 180 days in areas of their choice. These are the largest such programmes that India has for any other country and the largest among the skills and capacity development programmes offered to Afghanistan by its development partners. 

We have ensured that our projects are dictated by the needs and priorities of the local population. As a long standing friend of the Afghan people, and one with deep civilisational and historical ties, India is gratified at the progress that has been made in Afghanistan in recent years. It is important for the international community to maintain its commitment to the people of Afghanistan. India remains fully committed to assisting our Afghan partners in the process of reconstruction, and economic and human resource development, as they build a prosperous, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan. 

The second presidential and provincial councils elections conducted by the Afghan Election Commission on 20 August this year are a landmark event in Afghanistan’s evolution as a democracy. As a fellow developing democratic country, India appreciates the resoluteness and determination of the Afghan people who participated in the election process, notwithstanding threats and intimidation by the Taliban. India has congratulated all the democratic forces in Afghanistan for their participation in the electoral process. It is heartening that the campaigns were conducted in a democratic spirit, that there were no incidents of violence resulting from any clashes between supporters of the candidates, that participation in the elections was broad-based, and that voting was across ethnic lines. While President Karzai got votes from the northern provinces, Dr Abdullah Abdullah also received support in the southern and eastern areas. The elections were conducted by national institutions, unlike the previous elections in Afghanistan. 

The post-election period provides a fresh opportunity for a renewed commitment by the international community towards rebuilding Afghanistan. We should have the result of the first round of election around 12th October. Soon after the inauguration of the new Government, irrespective of whether the final result is settled in the first round or in a run-off, the international community and the Afghan Government would require to come together to configure the contours of their partnership for the next five years. 

Given the turbulence of the past eight years and the recent dramatic decline in security, there is need for an intensified focus on security, governance and development by the Afghan Government and here the international community should do what it can to assist. Failure in Afghanistan’s stabilisation will entail a heavy cost for both the Afghan people and the world at large. 

The past compacts, such as those reached in London in January 2006 and Paris in June 2008 placed the responsibility for institution building and governance mainly on the shoulders of the Afghan people and government, without adequately resourcing that effort and eliminating the growing threat from terrorist groups destabilising the country. This is the last opportunity for the country to extricate itself from its endemic entanglement with violence and under-development and settle on a track of stability and sustainable progress. 

While the Afghan government should spell out its priorities, the international community should come forward to provide the resources for fulfilling them. The Afghan leadership has itself stressed the need for a strong and genuine effort to improve governance, remove corruption and focus on development, especially in agriculture, rural development and infrastructure, with a shift in focus from the central to the provincial and district levels. All stakeholders now agree on the need for greater Afghanisation of the development process. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) should be enlarged and developed in a professional manner, at a much faster pace. ANSF should be provided appropriate resources, combat equipment, and training. 

Given its geographic location, Afghanistan has an immense potential to develop as a hub of trade, energy and transport corridors, which would help the long-term sustainability of development efforts in Afghanistan. There is a need for greater regional cooperation and economic integration of the Afghan economy with South and Central Asia. The historical and cultural relationship of Afghanistan with the other South Asian countries makes it a natural member of SAARC, which it joined two years ago. As its western-most country, Afghanistan is the key link for SAARC member States with Iran and Central Asia. This economic interdependence could catalyse peace and prosperity in the region at large and in Afghanistan in particular. 

As for the process of reconciliation, the existing process under the National Commission for Peace for reintegrating individuals with the national mainstream must be both enlarged and accelerated. We support the Afghan Government’s determination to integrate those willing to abjure violence and live and work within the parameters of the Afghan Constitution, which provides the framework for a pluralistic and democratic society. This should, of course, go hand-in-hand with the shutting down of support and sanctuaries provided to terrorist groups across the border. 

There is a growing understanding that the increase in terrorist actions in Afghanistan is linked to the support and sanctuaries available in the contiguous areas. That explains the particularly high-level of violence in the border areas of Afghanistan. That is perhaps the reason why the U.S. Administration unveiled its new Af-Pak strategy on 27th March 2009. The enunciation of objectives in the strategy is clear. The challenge is now about how to put this strategy into effect, for which there is no quick-fix solution. 

The international community should put effective pressure on Pakistan to implement its stated commitment to deal with terrorist groups within its territory, including the members of Al Qaeda, Taliban’s Quetta Shura, Hizb-e-Islami, Lashkar-e-Toiba and other like-minded terrorist groups. Without this, the gains made over the past eight years will be compromised and it will become difficult to forestall the restoration of status-quo-ante, to a situation similar to what prevailed prior to 11 September 2001. The world has come to realize, at considerable cost, that terrorism cannot be compartmentalized, and any facile attempts to strike Faustian bargains with terrorists often result in such forces turning on the very powers that sustained them in the past. A sense of defeatism pervades certain sections of international opinion. This needs to be guarded against, because it runs the risk of encouraging insurgent groups, besides weakening the authority of the Central Government and its institutions. 

What we believe Afghanistan needs is a long-term commitment, even while remaining mindful of the challenges. The Afghan people have displayed resilience and a survival instinct even against the greatest odds. We must do our utmost to support them. An eminent panellist in the inaugural session yesterday succinctly put forward the two choices confronting the international community – invest and endure or improve in order to exit. India has already made up its mind – invest and endure because we believe in the cause of peace, democracy and development in Afghanistan. We know that the friends of Afghanistan will do likewise.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate the USI, for organizing this international seminar, and as well as all the speakers, participants and the audience, who have contributed to the success of your deliberations. 

At the United Service Institution (USI)