India is prepared to move its cooperation with Pakistan at a pace that the South Asian neighbour is comfortable with, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Wednesday.
“It is time that we display the maturity and self-confidence to do business with each other and strengthen regional trade and cooperation,” Sushma Swaraj said in her address at the Heart of Asia Summit in Islamabad.
“For its part, India is prepared to move our cooperation at a pace which Pakistan is comfortable with,” she added.
The Heart of Asia conference engages “heart of Asia” countries in sincere and result-oriented cooperation for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
Sushma Swaraj said that the multilateral conference provided “an important platform for friends of Afghanistan from its immediate and extended neighbourhood to promote political consultations and regional cooperation for a united, democratic, independent, strong and prosperous Afghanistan”.
“My presence here underlines India’s strong commitment to that cause,” she stated.
The Indian minister said that New Delhi’s vision of this process was one of interlinked trade, transit, energy and communication routes, with Afghanistan as an important hub.
“Connectivity also lies at the heart of India’s own efforts to develop regional economic cooperation,” she stressed.
“The ‘Heart’ of Asia cannot function if arteries are clogged.”
She also called for full and direct overland access by Afghanistan to India’s markets to enable it to take advantage of the zero duty regime available to its exports to India.
“Similarly, if Afghan trucks could carry Indian products to markets in Afghanistan and Central Asia, that would be the best way to make trucking from Afghanistan cost-effective and viable, and bestow benefits to the whole region,” Sushma Swaraj said, adding that India was willing to receive Afghan trucks on its territory, at Attari on the India-Pakistan border and create necessary facilities for Afghan products there.
Stating that India has formally indicated its willingness to join the Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement, she said: “India is also working with Afghanistan and Iran to develop trilateral transit. Participation in development of the Chahbahar port will augment our connectivity with Afghanistan and beyond.”
According to the Indian minister, India’s engagement in trade, commerce and investment (TCI) confidence building measures within the Heart of Asia process as the lead country complemented “our bilateral development cooperation with Afghanistan, including in the spheres of infrastructure, connectivity and capacity building”.
She said that India acknowledged the role of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah in building on the strong foundation created by former president Hamid Karzai to ensure peaceful, democratic and inclusive governance for the whole of Afghanistan.
“However, as noted by the UN secretary general in his latest report on Afghanistan, the country continues to face intersecting challenges. Afghanistan is threatened most by terrorism and not tribal or ethnic rivalries,” Sushma Swaraj said.
“In the last few months, terrorism in Afghanistan has grown in both intensity and scope. Terrorists have made concerted efforts to capture and hold territory, reminding us that they have not changed.”
She also saluted the Afghan national security forces and the Afghan people for countering the forces of terrorism and extremism with courage and resilience.
“For its part, India is ready to work with Afghanistan to strengthen its defensive capability,” Swaraj said.
Concluding her speech, she invited the ministers for the 6th Heart of Asia summit to be held in India in 2016.