M A I N   N E W S

Natwar assures Pak of cooperation, focuses
on terrorism
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh adjusts his cap in Kabul on Tuesday
External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh adjusts his cap in Kabul on Tuesday.
— PTI photo

Islamabad, February 15
Mr K. Natwar Singh, who today became India’s first External Affairs Minister since 1989 to arrive here on a bilateral visit, said the Composite Dialogue process with Pakistan could be sustained only in an atmosphere free from terrorism and violence.

The minister said India was looking at additional transportation links with Pakistan and specifically mentioned several agreements which were possible in the coming months, including pre-notification of missile tests, MoU between Indian Coast Guard and Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency, and an MOU between the narcotics control authorities.

In his statement on arrival here, Mr Natwar Singh also pointed out that India had agreed to consider a gas pipeline through Pakistan “subject to satisfaction of our concerns related to security and assured supplies”.

He also pointed out that the Commerce Secretaries of the two countries would meet in a week’s time in the framework of a Joint Study Group to explore and enhance trade and economic cooperation.

“I am hopeful of taking the process further during this visit. In today’s context, cooperation and cordiality between our two countries is an imperative and a desirable objective. Of course the process can be sustained only in an atmosphere free from terrorism and violence in the framework of the commitment made on January 6, 2004,” Mr Natwar Singh reminded Pakistan.

Observers here attach a lot of significance to the fact that Mr Natwar Singh dwelt on peace, trade and economic cooperation with Pakistan in seven paragraphs and dealt with the issue of terrorism in the last paragraph. It is a signal to Pakistan that India was willing to continue the journey down the road of peace and cooperation at the current levels of terrorism, though India would keep on insisting on zero-tolerance limit of terrorism.

Mr Natwar Singh pointed out that diplomatic and communication links with Pakistan had been restored to earlier levels and that the UPA government had brought additional subjects to the table through expert-level dialogues, including nuclear and conventional confidence building measures (CBMs).

Mr Natwar Singh will call on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz tomorrow morning. During these separate meetings, Mr Natwar Singh would deliver to Gen Musharraf and Mr Aziz special message from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Formal delegation-level talks between Mr Natwar Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri are scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

According to Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, at the formal talks the two sides will review the dialogue process, talk about the additional CBMs to be agreed upon and set the tone for the second round of Composite Dialogue Process.



Delhi, Kabul explore new avenues of cooperation
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

Kabul, February 15
External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh today had substantive talks with his Afghanistani counterpart Abdullah Abdullah and President Hamid Karzai during his six-hour-long visit here in which the two sides agreed to work on new areas of cooperation.

Mr Karzai told Mr Natwar Singh that there was a prevailing sentiment of affection in Afghanistan towards India and remarked: “In a sense India and Afghanistan have found each other again.”

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told correspondents accompanying the External Affairs Ministry from New Delhi that Mr Karzai stressed that India should look upon Afghanistan as its friend and pointed out that in recent years Kabul had received assistance from various countries but the best assistance came from India.

The two countries reviewed their ongoing cooperation in dozens of fields and agreed to work on new areas of cooperation like finance, security, defence, infrastructure and health.

The Afghan leadership told Mr Natwar Singh that what Kabul could give India in return was a vast array of economic and diplomatic opportunities. For example, India was told that it should look at today’s Afghanistan as window of opportunities of enhanced economic cooperation and treat Afghanistan as a gateway to accessing the vast market potential of Central Asia.

Mr Natwar Singh and the Afghan leaders reviewed the crucial road project from Zaranj to Delaram which the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has already started upgrading and reconstructing since 2003. India has committed $ 84 million for the 218-km-long road which will take two years more for completion. Once the road project is completed, it will provide alternative access route to Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar Port and will obviate a 1500-km-long detour which Indian vehicles have to take at present.

The Government of India has also decided to fund the construction of a new parliament building in Afghanistan. India will carry out the construction of the Afghan Parliament building once the Karzai administration identifies the site in Kabul.

India has made a total commitment of $ 400 million as assistance to Afghanistan over the period 2002-2008, making India among the top six contributors to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, a significant effort for a non-traditional donor.

During his brief stay here, Mr Natwar Singh called on former King Baba-e-Millat Zahir Shah, handed over 49 army trucks to Defence Minister Gen Abdurrahim Wardak and handed over the surgical block of Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, Kabul, to Health Minister Dr Sayed Mohammad Amin Fatemi.

Mr Natwar Singh’s arrival was delayed by over two hours because Kabul airport was closed due to heavy snowfall.


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