With Afghanistan’s lawmakers and political leadership listening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi — in his first visit to Afghanistan —Friday called for cooperation and support from its neighbours, including Pakistan, to ensure the country’s success. He also said Afghanistan will succeed only when “terrorism no longer flows across the border”.
While many have pushed for cooperation between Indian and Pakistan on Afghanistan, no Indian PM has made the point at a public forum.
“We know that Afghanistan’s success will require the cooperation and support of each of its neighbours. And, all of us in the region — India, Pakistan, Iran and others — must unite, in trust and cooperation, behind this common purpose and in recognition of our common destiny. When Afghanistan becomes a haven of peace and a hub for flow of ideas, commerce, energy and investments in the region, we will all prosper together,” said Modi.
In an almost 40-minute speech punctuated by applause at the new Afghan parliament — built by India — Modi also told Afghan leaders, “You have judged us by what you see, not what others tell you, including about the mysterious Indian consulates.” As he said this, Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah, could be seen exchanging smiles and glances. Pakistan has been raising the issue of Indian involvement in fuelling unrest in Balochistan, and this is the first time a top Indian leader has addressed the issue.
“There are some who did not want us to be here. There were those who saw sinister designs in our presence here. There are others who were uneasy at the strength of our partnership. Some even tried to discourage us. But, we are here because you have faith in us. You never doubted the sincerity of our commitment and the strength of our friendship,” said Modi.
“You know that India is here to contribute not to compete; to lay the foundations of future, not light the flame of conflict; to rebuild lives, not destroy a nation. You know, as we do, that Indians and Afghans have always stood for each other, never against another. You have been at the crossroads of history. And, your history tells us that you will never let yourself become a theatre of competition; or serve the designs of others,” Modi said, debunking the popular narrative of proxy war between India and Pakistan on Afghan soil.
These comments also assume significance since Ghani has been seeking Pakistan’s help and cooperation to restart talks with Taliban. In fact, Pakistan’s Army chief Raheel Sharif is likely to visit Kabul Sunday.
Modi also talked tough against terrorism, and obliquely referred to Pakistan in his speech.
“Afghanistan will succeed only when terrorism no longer flows across the border; when nurseries and sanctuaries of terrorism are shut, and their patrons are no longer in business,” he said, adding, “Terror and violence cannot be the instrument to shape Afghanistan’s future or dictate the choices Afghans make.”
“Too much blood has flown down Kabul river. Too many tragedies have darkened the mountain slopes. Too many dreams have burnt in the fire of a senseless conflict,” he said.
Stressing that efforts were underway to improve Afghanistan’s connectivity by land and sea, the PM pitched for transit through Pakistan, saying, “I hope Pakistan will become a bridge between South Asia and Afghanistan and beyond.”
“Kabuliwala can once again come across easily to win Indian hearts — when we in India can relish the wonderful fruits of Afghanistan; when Afghans do not have to pay an enormous price to buy their favourite products from India,” he said.
Modi also said India will give 500 scholarships for children of martyrs of Afghan security forces.
The PM, who flew to Kabul from Moscow in the early hours of Friday, was received by Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar and Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai.
He inaugurated the parliament building in the presence of Ghani. He also opened an ‘Atal block’ in Parliament premises, named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose 91st birthday was on Friday.
Wrapping up his speech, the PM said, “Your suffering is our pain. Your dreams are our duty. Your strength is our belief. Your courage is our inspiration. Above all, your friendship is our honour.”