India and Afghanistan on Monday sent a strong message to Pakistan and committed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other and fight cross-border terrorism and terror sanctuaries.
As the two countries signed 116 agreements in development sectors, including in health, agriculture and education, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said India’s relationship with Afghanistan was an article of faith as New Delhi would remain with Kabul in fighting the challenges of terrorism.
Without naming Pakistan, the Minister said India and Afghanistan remained “united in overcoming the challenges posed by cross-border terrorism and safe havens and sanctuaries to both our countries”.
Sushma Swaraj was addressing a joint media conference with Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani following the “India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Council” talks here.
“For India, strategic partnership and friendship with Afghanistan is an article of faith. It is not just another relationship or an engagement, but a spiritual and civilisation connect.”
Rabbani emphasised India and Afghanistan had suffered from terrorism and violent extremism that has threatened the region’s stability.
He named terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad “which have been launching attacks against India and indiscriminately killing civilians of this country”.
He said the Pakistan-based groups active in Jammu and Kashmir were “engaged in similar activities along with Taliban, Al Qaeda and Daesh in Afghanistan”.
“Together they are killing our people on Afghanistan and destroying infrastructure,” he said.
Sushma Swaraj said India honoured the supreme sacrifices made by Afghan Defence and Security Forces for the cause of entire humanity.
“We are indebted to them for ensuring safety of Indians working in Afghanistan,” she said, adding that India would begin implementation of the new 500 scholarships programme for next of kin of the martyrs of Afghan National Defence and Security Forces from the academic year 2018.
Sushma Swaraj referred to the high-level visits exchanged between the two countries over the last three years, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits in December 2015 to inaugurate a new building of the Afghan Parliament in Kabul and then again in June 2016 to inaugurate the Salma Dam in Herat province reconstructed with India’s aid.
“Today, building upon our economic and development cooperation, we jointly agreed to embark on a New Development Partnership in keeping with the priorities of Afghanistan,” the Indian External Affairs Minister said.
“One hundred sixteen new High Impact Development Projects would be jointly implemented that would bring socio-economic and infrastructure development, especially in the suburban and rural communities in 31 provinces of Afghanistan.”
Sushma Swaraj said India would assist in building the Shahtoot dam in the Kabul river basin and drinking water supply project for Kabul, low cost housing for returning refugees, water supply network for Charikar city, and a polyclinic in Mazar-e-Sharif among others.
“Focus will continue on building governance and democratic institutions; human resource capacity and skill development, including in the areas of education, health, agriculture, energy, administration, application of remote sensing in resource management and space technology in governance,” she stated.
Stating that both sides discussed measures for enhancing trade and investment cooperation, Sushma Swaraj said that India has liberalised its visa regime, especially for Afghan businessmen.
She also referred to the Afghanistan-India air freight corridor launched in June this year and said that this would provide direct access for Afghan farmers to the Indian markets.
“We are expediting the development of Chahbahar Port in trilateral cooperation with Iran,” Sushma Swaraj said.
“We will begin supply of wheat to Afghanistan in coming weeks through Chahbahar port,” she said.
In a significant development, India and Afghanistan signed a Motors Vehicle Agreement on Monday.
“We hope that it would pave the way for overland transit,” Sushma Swaraj said.
On his part, Rabbani thanked India for its continued security cooperation and support in the fight against terrorism.
“We need India’s support to increase connectivity,” he said, while welcoming the air freight connectivity and seeking more people-to-people contacts.
The Afghan Foreign Minister also invited India’s “dynamic media” to visit his country.