Remarks by Amb. R Rahmani  Ambassador of Afghanistan to the US  at a Conference on  The India-Afghanistan Relationship: Examining Historical, Political Economic and Cultural Ties at

Hudson Institute on 21November, 2019 Remarks by Amb. R Rahmani Ambassador of Afghanistan to the US at a Conference on The India-Afghanistan Relationship: Examining Historical, Political Economic and Cultural Ties at Hudson Institute on 21November, 2019

Good morning. Asalum Alayku. May peace be upon you.

It is a pleasure to be here. I would like to start by thanking the Hudson Institute for inviting me.

I would also like to thank our host, Ambassador Husain Haqqani, and am honored to join this distinguished panel with Ambassador Shringla and Ms. Jackson representing the state department.

I expect the day-long conference to be a lively and fascinating discussion on Afghan-Indian relations.

There is certainly lot to cover.

Indian culture has had a powerful impact on the entire world. From the heritage of Gandhi, which inspires young people around the world to “be the change they want to see in this world”, to yoga studios in the Amazon, to my favorite Indian restaurants here in DC, it is hard to find a part of this world that has remained untouched by the cultural heritage of the world’s largest democracy.

Afghanistan is no exception. Indeed, our connections with India runs very deep and crosses all aspects of society.

I hope that today we will have a chance to discuss the many layers of official cooperation that exist between India and Afghanistan.

As many of you may know, India is the largest regional provider of development aid to Afghanistan. Indeed, the Strategic Partnership Agreement forged between Kabul and New Delhi has paved the way for strong partnerships in infrastructure development, education, and trade. Under the auspices of the New Development Partnership, India has taken on over $1 billion in agriculture, water, education, and health development projects in Afghanistan since the partnership was announced in September 2017.

In this regard, the genuine commitment of the Indian government and of the Indian people to help build a prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan is apparent every day. I think of it every time I see our beautiful Parliament building, which was generously built by India. At its inauguration in 2015, Prime Minister Modi stated that this building “Stands as an enduring symbol of the ties of emotion and values, of affection and aspirations that bind (India and Afghanistan) in a special relationship”. This could not be better stated.

Much of this cooperation, and the commitment of our Indian partners to supporting Afghan designed and Afghan led initiatives – including their strong support for an Afghan led and owned peace process – speaks to our shared love of freedom and deep belief in democracy.

Not only has India helped to build over 200 public and private schools in Afghanistan, it currently hosts over 16,000 Afghan students. By far the largest number of Afghans studying abroad in any country. As we work to establish our still young and developing democracy, this opportunity for our young people to live and study in the world’s largest democracy has been priceless.

And while Afghan students abroad get to experience Indian culture first hand, there are more than 2500 Indian citizens living and working in Afghanistan at this time. I know that they will bring a little bit of Afghanistan back to India as well.

Of course, this official cooperation and these initiatives, as important and impactful as they may be, only scratch the surface of this long and complex relationship.

Indians and Afghans have lived side by side, sharing music, poetry, and food for generations. In the 1990’s, when I was a young woman and left the region for the first time to attend college in Canada, my homesickness was alleviated by the fact that I was hosted by a Canadian family of Indian origin. The grandmother of the family, an elderly lady of almost 90 years, was thrilled to practice with me the few words in Dari that she remembered learning in school. She told me about how when she was a little girl, learning Dari was a mandatory part of her education.

Of course, our historical and cultural ties date back much further, to the Indus Valley Civilization during the Bronze Age. Afghanistan was deeply influenced by Buddhist, Hindu, and Zoroastrian cultures and influences which can still be observed in the timeless Buddhist symbol of Aynak and Bamyan in Afghanistan.

This history is so rich and encompasses so many facets of connection that I have managed to get this far in my remarks without yet mentioning the two most critical elements.

Let us face it, no government initiative could ever be more effective in bringing our people closer than the two real stars of this relationship. And no, I am not referring to any particular political leader. The truth is that no discussion about Indian-Afghan relationships would be complete without a mention of Bollywood and cricket.

I myself grew up anxiously awaiting Thursday nights, when the only TV channel available in Kabul would air an Indian movie. I know I was not the only one eagerly awaiting Thursday nights!

During the dark days of Taliban rule, these joyful films were sometimes the only colorful things we had to look forward to. These films provided a glimpse into a different world and gave us hope when little else could. Today, every Afghan I know speaks a little Hindi because of these films.

As for cricket, now a national pastime, last year, India declared the Greater Noida Stadium as the Afghan team’s official training facility, as they currently don’t have one in Afghanistan. The Indian government has also provided coaching and technical facilities, as well as funding for a stadium in Kandahar.

I hesitate to say any more on this topic. I am not very familiar with the nuances of cricket rivalries and relationships. I am not certain that even my lengthy experience dealing with sensitive foreign policy matters has prepared me to navigate the world of cricket.

But even without getting into the details, my point is this: Afghan and Indian cultures are deeply entwined. Our people today are connected not only by history and policy, but also by culture and, most critically, a mutual feeling of respect. The people of Afghanistan cherish the partnerships and bond, both official and not, that they share with their Indian friends.

Most importantly, we are joined by our commitment to making our shared vision of a prosperous South Asia a reality.

I wish you a productive and energizing discussion.

And thank you!