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Foreign Secretary’s Message at the Virtual Symposium on ‘Glancing Back, Gazing Beyond: Understanding Afghanistan' (September 14, 2021)

September 14, 2021

Let me begin by thanking Lt. Gen (Retd.) Surendra Kulkarni for inviting me to address the Principals and teachers of some of the leading schools of India on the current state of play and unfolding situation in Afghanistan. The insights and learnings from teachers play a crucial role in shaping the world-view of young students, and so it is heartening to see our schools take an active interest in trying to understand the importance of notable events playing out in our region.

2. It has often been said that geography is destiny. India’s destiny is inextricably linked with its neighbours. The countries in our neighbourhood are of unique and special strategic significance to India, both because they are deeply interconnected with us through ties of geography, culture and history, and also because the internal and external dimensions of our policy – and theirs – intersect and overlap. Relations with them also impact our own states that border these neighbours.

3. Accordingly, the neighbourhood remains our primary diplomatic arena. The primacy given to the neighbourhood in our diplomatic efforts is reflected in our Neighbourhood First policy which has been a defining feature of India’s foreign policy since 2014.

4. As a neighbouring country of Afghanistan, we are naturally concerned about the developments within that country and their external repercussions. India has a civilisational relationship with the Afghan people and those long-standing links guided and will continue to guide our approach.

5. India’s development partnership with Afghanistan includes more than five hundred projects spread across each of the 34 provinces of the country. They cover critical areas such as power, water supply, road connectivity, healthcare, education, agriculture and capacity building.

6. Capacity building and training have been one of the main levers of India’s development partnership with Afghanistan. As educationists, you will understand the importance of creating capacity for the youth of Afghanistan. Under our development assistance programme, we have built primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities across Afghanistan. More than 65,000 Afghan students have studied in India. Afghanistan is one of the largest beneficiaries of the Government of India’s ITEC scholarships.

7. Afghanistan was accorded primacy in the supply of Covid-19 vaccines under India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative in the neighbourhood. We have also reached out with humanitarian food assistance worth millions of tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan.

8. Subsequent to the recent changes in Afghanistan, our immediate focus has been the evacuation of Indian nationals from Afghanistan. Most Indian nationals were able to leave Kabul in August. A number of Afghans, including minorities, who were desirous of travelling to India, also managed to do so. But these processes could not be completed due to the security situation at the airport. Resumption of flights from Kabul airport is, therefore, a priority. We are closely monitoring the unfolding situation

9. As you may be aware, India held the rotating Presidency of the UN Security Council in the month of August 2021. Under our Presidency, the UN Security Council met thrice to discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan, resulting in four outcome documents. These included three press statements and a resolution. At the last of these meetings, on August 30, the Council adopted UNSC Resolution (UNSCR) 2593, which comprehensively addressed the main pending issues relating to Afghanistan.

10. UNSCR 2593 unequivocally demands that Afghan territory not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist acts; and specifically refers to terrorist individuals proscribed by the UN Security Council, including Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The resolution also sets expectations on safe passage and secure departure of Afghans and all foreign nationals from Afghanistan. There is recognition of the need to uphold human rights, including of women and minorities, and to encourage all parties for an inclusive, negotiated political settlement. There is reaffirmantion for responding to the desire of Afghans to sustain and build on Afghanistan’s gains over the last twenty years.

11. Our collective approach has been articulated by UNSCR 2593. It is only by remaining true to the principles professed therein that we can make a meaningful contribution to Afghanistan at this time. We expect the international community to remain both responsive and united at a time of crisis.

12. As for India, our long-standing investment in the people of Afghanistan has earned us tremendous goodwill and cemented the civilisational bond between our two countries. Our friendship with the Afghan people will continue to guide our approach in the future.

Thank you.
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