Script: Dr. ATHAR ZAFAR, Analyst on CIS Countries.
External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar was on a two-day visit to Tajikistan this week to participate in the 9th Ministerial Conference of the “Heart of Asia-Istanbul” Process on Afghanistan. The conference was held on Tuesday at Dushanbe. The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was launched in 2011 in Istanbul. It puts Afghanistan at the centre and aims for result-oriented regional cooperation. The Process considers that a secure and stable Afghanistan is vital to the prosperity of the wider region. India had hosted the Sixth Ministerial Conference at Amritsar in December 2016.
The agenda of the 9th Ministerial Conference is “Strengthening Consensus for Peace and Development”. In his address at Dushanbe, Dr. Jaishankar said that the term ‘Heart of Asia’ should not be taken lightly, as whatever happens in Afghanistan will affect the wider region. He said that the situation in that country is of grave concern and it is a ‘collective imperative’ to ensure that Afghanistan is free of terrorism, violent extremism and drug and criminal syndicates. He added that the involvement of foreign fighters in Afghanistan is particularly disturbing. There has been increase in targeted killings in recent months. He proposed that for durable peace in Afghanistan a genuine ‘double peace’ is required. The ‘double peace’ means peace inside Afghanistan as well as peace around Afghanistan.
India has been supportive of the process of political settlement in Afghanistan. It is among the largest donors with over US$ 3 billion of investments in Afghanistan. New Delhi has been sincerely and constructively engaged in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and rebuilding process. India has accomplished major projects like Indo-Afghan Friendship (Salma) Dam, Parliament building and Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health.
In February 2021 an MoU was concluded by Dr. Jaishankar and his Afghan counterpart Mr. Hanif Atmar for the construction of the Lalandar [Shatoot] Dam, which would supply water to Kabul and irrigation and electricity to nearby fields. As a part of Development Cooperation with Afghanistan, India has completed more than 400 projects covering all its 34 provinces.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process has established seven Confidence-Building Measures with the idea of a lead and participating countries. India leads the CBM on Trade, Commerce and Investment. Lack of direct land connectivity has hampered trade and commercial relations between the two countries. To address the challenge of connectivity with Afghanistan, India has launched dedicated Air Freight Corridor with it. Besides, India along with Iran and Afghanistan is developing direct connectivity between
Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean region, through the Chabahar port. The Iranian Chabahar port has already begun handling vessels and cargoes. Amid the pandemic; 75,000 tonnes of wheat was dispatched to Afghanistan as humanitarian assistance. It is expected to become fully operational in couple of months giving a major fillip to trade not only with Afghanistan but with Central Asia and Eurasia.
During his visit, Dr. Jaishankar also called on President of Tajikistan Mr. Emomali Rahmon and President of Afghanistan Dr. Ashraf Ghani. Apart from discussing bilateral relations, President Rahmon emphasized greater economic cooperation between India and Tajikistan and welcomed Indian businesses to invest in Tajik economy. The visiting Minister also exchanged views on bilateral and regional issues with his Tajik counterpart Mr. Sirojiddin Muhriddin, Defence Minister Colonel General Sherali Mirzo and other dignitaries from Tajikistan, and discussed areas of bilateral and regional cooperation. India and Tajikistan are strategic partners and share similar views on Afghanistan. India is actively engaged in Tajikistan in areas, including IT, food processing, engineering, pharmaceuticals and capacity building. To deal with the COVID-19 pandemic New Delhi provided medicines and ‘Made in India’ vaccines to Tajikistan. The Minister also visited the construction site of the Dushanbe-Chortut highway being built by India.
In his visit to Tajikistan, Dr. Jaishankar also held meetings with dignitaries visiting from other countries, including Foreign Ministers of Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkey, and discussed with them the issues of common interests. The visit of Dr. Jaishankar further enhances outreach to Afghanistan and Central Asia and boosts bilateral ties with Tajikistan.