Addressing a conference in Tashkent on regional connectivity of Central & South Asia, also attended by China & Pakistan, Jaishankar said connectivity efforts must conform to international laws

New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made a strong pitch for connectivity with Afghanistan Friday by leveraging the role of Iran’s Chabahar Port, which will act as a hub for the joint use of India, Uzbekistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

Speaking at the International Conference on Regional Connectivity of Central and South Asia, at the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent, Jaishankar stressed that any form of connectivity efforts made by countries should adhere to international laws, territorial integrity and sovereignty, and that such initiatives should not create “debt burdens”.

“Since 2016, India has taken practical steps to operationalise the Chabahar port in Iran. This provides a secure, viable and unhindered access to the sea for Central Asian countries. Its efficacy is now clearly proven… The formation of (the) India-Uzbekistan-Iran-Afghanistan Quadrilateral Working Group on the joint use of Chabahar port is a welcome development,” he said while addressing the conference.

The two-day conference — Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities — that concluded in Tashkent Friday was also attended by Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister S.M. Qureshi, and Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi.

“Connectivity efforts must be based on economic viability and financial responsibility. They should promote economic activity and not create debt burdens. Ecological and environmental standards, as also skill and technology transfers, are musts. Connectivity must be consultative, transparent and participatory,” Jaishankar said.

This was a direct taunt at China and Pakistan that are engaged in developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India has been opposed to the CPEC since its inception because the corridor passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The BRI, which has been touted as the pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has often been accused of creating a debt trap for countries that have become part of it.

Imran Khan, meanwhile, said at the conference that Pakistan “wants to have civilised relations with India, but the RSS ideology comes in the way”.

Resilient And Reliable Supply Chains

In the wake of the post-Covid economic recovery, Jaishankar said, connectivity can act as an “economic multiplier”.

“Connectivity acquires a particular salience in the context of post-Covid economic recovery. It is itself an economic multiplier. But there is also a widespread realisation of the need now for more resilient and reliable supply chains. This is not just a matter of production; it is equally a challenge of efficient logistics,” he said.

Jaishankar added that connectivity must be “consultative, transparent and participatory” and also highlighted that the challenges faced by New Delhi, such as politics, vested interests and instability, can be formidable impediments to its realisation.

“The real issues are of mindsets, not of disputes. Blocking connectivity in practice while professing support in principle benefits no one. A one-sided view of trade rights and obligations can never work. No serious connectivity can ever be a one-way street,” he said.

Discussions On Afghanistan

On Friday, Jaishankar also met Uzbekistan President Shavkat Miromonovich Mirziyoyev and discussed with him the situation in Afghanistan and its impact on the entire region, which includes countries that are not just in the immediate neighbourhood of Afghanistan but also beyond.

Afghanistan is currently witnessing a rapid deterioration in the security situation, even as the Taliban steps up violence as the American troops wind up operations in the country aiming to make a complete exit by 31 August.

Jaishanakar had also met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Thursday and assured him of India’s support for peace, stability and development in Afghanistan.

In his keynote address at the event, President Ghani Friday said the Taliban has unleashed a “destructive wave of attacks across the country”. He said the Taliban is resorting to car bombs, planting to landmines, assassination campaigns and targeted killing of women among others.”

Ghani, in his speech, also hit out at Pakistan-based terror outfits for helping the Taliban in carrying out its offensive.

In a last-ditch effort to have a peaceful settlement under the framework of the intra-Afghan dialogue, a delegation from Afghanistan left for Qatar capital Doha Friday to meet Taliban chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former dreaded Taliban fighter and now chief of Hizb-e-Islami, an Islamist party in Afghanistan.

The Afghan delegation comprised Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Afghan politician and former warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Before leaving for India, Jaishankar also discussed the present situation in Afghanistan with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of European Commission.