As Muhamad Iqbal’s poem — which described Afghanistan as the “Heart of Asia” — was recited by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Dari, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj used the analogy on Wednesday to make a strong pitch for Indian transit through Afghanistan.
Addressing the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia conference, Swaraj said that ‘Heart’ of Asia “cannot function if arteries are clogged”.
“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, with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif and Ghani listening.
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Her comments were in the backdrop of Pakistan not allowing transit of goods through Pakistan — between India and Afghanistan. Islamabad had blocked the consensus on the SAARC motor vehicles agreement at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu last year, and has also resisted India joining the Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement.
Stressing that “connectivity lies at the heart of India’s own efforts” to develop regional economic cooperation, she told the gathering: “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. India is willing to receive Afghan trucks in its territory, at Attari, and create necessary facilities for Afghan products there,” she said, and formally indicated willingness to join the Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement.
With India ready to supply attack helicopters to Afghanistan, Swaraj also said, “India is ready to work with Afghanistan to strengthen its defence capability.”
She also met Afghanistan President Ghani separately for a bilateral meeting, where they talked about transit, terrorism and the status of the reconciliation process with Taliban.