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Time for India, Pak to display maturity to do business:Swaraj

EAM Sushma Swaraj visit to Pakistan

Islamabad :  India today extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan, saying it was time the two countries display “maturity and self-confidence” to do business with each other as the world was rooting for a change and offered to move cooperation at a pace Pakistan is comfortable with.

Speaking at ‘Heart of Asia’ ministerial conference on Afghanistan, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also asked the international community to ensure that the forces of terrorism and extremism do not find sanctuaries and safe havens in “any name, form or manifestation”.

She said the “heart of Asia” cannot function if arteries are clogged and noted that India’s vision for the war-torn country was one of interlinked trade, transit, energy and communication routes, with Afghanistan as an important hub.

“Let me take this opportunity to extend our hand to Pakistan as well. It is time that we display the maturity and self-confidence to do business with each other and strengthen regional trade and cooperation. The entire world is waiting and rooting for a change. Let us not disappoint them.

“For its part, India is prepared to move our cooperation at a pace which Pakistan is comfortable with. But today, let us at least resolve to help Afghanistan –- in the best traditions of good neighbourliness –- through more effective transit arrangements,” she said.

Swaraj, who was accompanied by Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan TCA Raghavan and envoy to Afghanistan Amar Sinha, said terrorism in that country has grown in both intensity and scope in the last few months and that India was ready to work with the Afghan government to strengthen its defensive capability.

“Terrorists have made concerted efforts to capture and hold territory, reminding us that they have not changed. We salute the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan people for countering the forces of terrorism and extremism with courage and resilience.

“They need the continued support of the international community to defend Afghanistan’s unity and security. For its part, India is ready to work with Afghanistan to strengthen its defensive capability,” she said.

Swaraj said it was the collective duty of “all of us to ensure that the forces of terrorism and extremism do not find sanctuaries and safe havens in any name, form or manifestation.

“We, in Afghanistan’s proximity, have a particular responsibility in this regard,” she said.

Swaraj said nothing can benefit Afghanistan more immediately than full and direct overland access 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,” she said.

Noting that connectivity was key for economic development, Swaraj said India is willing to receive Afghan trucks at Attari and create necessary facilities for Afghan products there.

“We have also formally indicated our willingness to join the Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement. India is also working with Afghanistan and Iran to develop trilateral transit,” she said, adding that participation in development of the Chahbahar Port will augment India’s connectivity with Afghanistan and beyond.

“India’s engagement in the Trade, Commerce and Investment (TCI) CBM within the Heart of Asia process as the lead country complements our bilateral development cooperation with Afghanistan, including in the spheres of infrastructure, connectivity and capacity building,” she said.

Observing that democracy was taking roots in Afghanistan, she said India acknowledged the role of President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah in building on the strong foundation created by former President Hamid Karzai to ensure peaceful, democratic and inclusive governance.

“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,” she said.

Swaraj said India would like to host the next Heart of Asia Conference next year and referred to the historical links both countries have.

In this regard she talked about Afghan-origin ruler of Delhi Sher Shah Suri and the Grand Trunk Road built centuries ago to connect Kolkata and Kabul.

“The honour to host the sixth Ministerial of the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process in 2016 in India will help us highlight the age-old message of that great artery connecting peoples and lands,” she said.

The External Affairs Minister said the Heart of Asia process provides 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. The theme of today’s meeting combines cooperation with security and connectivity. This is particularly relevant to Heart of Asia. India’s vision of this process is one of interlinked trade, transit, energy and communication routes, with Afghanistan as an important hub,” she said.

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