India, Central Asian nations vow to fight Afghanistan terror
- The fallout of the Taliban takeover of Kabul on regional security, post-pandemic recovery and measures to boost regional connectivity and trade were in focus as foreign ministers of India and the Central Asian states held their third dialogue in the Capital.
India and the five Central Asian states on Sunday pushed for concerted action against all terror groups, saying Afghanistan’s soil must not be used for planning terror attacks, even as they pledged to provide immediate humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.
The fallout of the Taliban takeover of Kabul on regional security, post-pandemic recovery and measures to boost regional connectivity and trade were in focus as foreign ministers of India and the Central Asian states held their third dialogue in the Capital.
India welcomed the interest shown by the Central Asian states in using Shahid Beheshti terminal at Iran’s Chabahar port, which is operated by an Indian company, for trade with India and beyond, according to a joint statement. All the sides agreed to develop the transit and transport potential of their countries, improve the regional logistics network and promote joint initiatives to create new transport corridors.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar set the stage for the discussions, saying in his televised opening remarks that India and the Central Asian states have similar concerns and objectives in Afghanistan, including the formation of a truly inclusive government, the fight against terror and drug trafficking, ensuring unhindered humanitarian aid, and preserving the rights of women, children and minorities.
“We must find ways of helping the people of Afghanistan,” Jaishankar said.
Uzbekistan foreign minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, in his opening remarks, pointed to the “challenging situation” in Afghanistan” and spoke of the “need to develop a unified and coordinated approach towards this country”.
With leaders of the Central Asian states expected to be chief guests at next year’s Republic Day celebrations, Turkmenistan’s foreign minister Rashid Meredov said Sunday’s meeting will be a “key event in the preparation process for the upcoming Central Asia-India Summit in January”.
The positions taken on Afghanistan, terrorism and connectivity in the joint statement hewed closely to India’s stance on these matters, including the need to ensure transparency, financial sustainability and sovereignty in connectivity projects against the backdrop of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, people familiar with developments said.
While discussing the situation in Afghanistan and its impact on the region, the ministers supported a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and emphasised respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in its internal affairs, the joint statement said.
The ministers pointed to the importance of UN Security Council Resolution 2593, which “unequivocally demands that Afghan territory not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist acts and called for concerted action against all terrorist groups”.
They discussed the current humanitarian situation and “decided to continue to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people”.
The ministers condemned all forms of terrorism and opposed “providing safe haven, using terrorist proxies for cross-border terrorism, terror financing, arms and drugs trafficking, dissemination of a radical ideology and abuse of cyber space to spread disinformation and incite violence,” the joint statement said.
The ministers said perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors of terror acts must be brought to justice in accordance with principle of “extradite or prosecute”. They called on the world community to implement relevant UN resolutions, global counter-terrorism strategy and Financial Action Task Force standards.
These aspects of the joint statement were seen as a tacit acknowledgement of India’s concerns about terrorism emanating from Pakistan, the people said, requesting anonymity.
In the field of connectivity, the ministers sought optimum use of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and stressed that “connectivity initiatives should be based on the principles of transparency, broad participation, local priorities, financial sustainability and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries”.
While welcoming the proposal to include Chabahar port within the framework of INSTC, they expressed interest in cooperating on the development and strengthening of connectivity in Central and South Asia. All the countries agreed to explore the possibility of establishing joint working groups to address the free movements of goods and services between India and the Central Asian states.
All the countries are currently discussing the use of a $1 billion line of credit announced by India last year for infrastructure projects in Central Asia, and the ministers asked senior officials to make efforts for early progress on this issue.
In the field of post-pandemic recovery, all the countries stressed the importance of extensive vaccination and called for cooperation through sharing of vaccine doses, transfer of technology, development of local production capacities, promotion of supply chains for medical products, and ensuring price transparency.
The ministers also backed the gradual restoration of tourism and business ties between India and the Central Asian countries. The foreign ministers of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan welcomed the mutual recognition of Covid-19 vaccination certificates between India and their countries, while the ministers of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan sought early mutual recognition of certificates.
India hosted the third edition of the dialogue, which began in 2019. This year’s event was joined by the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, who skipped a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Afghanistan hosted by Pakistan on Sunday. All the Central Asian states are members of the OIC and were represented at the meet in Islamabad by deputy foreign ministers or other ministers.
Most of the Central Asian foreign ministers spoke of the need to build on the historical and cultural ties of their region with India and highlighted the potential for cooperation in areas such as connectivity, transport, transit and energy. They referred to the importance of security cooperation between Central Asia and India.
Jaishankar sought a collective response to challenges facing the region, including the impact of Covid-19 on global health and economy, and said the pandemic had changed supply chains and governance. It also highlighted the inadequacy of existing multilateral structures to meet new and emerging threats, he said
With India and Central Asia facing the test of rebuilding their economies, he said, “But together we can do this better and India, I assure you, will be your steadfast partner.”
“We already have a good history of cooperation,” he said. “But my message to you today is a readiness to take it to the next level. Our ties must now focus around 4Cs – commerce, capacity enhancement, connectivity and contacts.”