30 August 2005

The road to Afghanistan runs through Pakistan

Kabul: If Pakistan grants India transit rights, cooperation with Afghanistan would increase manifold, says Manmohan Singh

30 August 2005
The Hindu

`Ties with Afghanistan will improve if Pakistan grants transit rights'

Siddharth Varadarajan

India not in the business of thrusting cooperation on any unwilling country, says Manmohan

KABUL: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has acknowledged that the "effectiveness" of India's relationship with Afghanistan areas can "improve significantly" if Islamabad agrees to grant transit rights for Indian goods. He was speaking to reporters here on Monday at the end of his two-day visit to Afghanistan.

"President Karzai has always been supportive of India's request that Pakistan give us normal transit rights for the movement of our goods to and from Pakistan into Afghanistan and Central Asia," he said.

"The main issue is to persuade Pakistan."

Asked whether India's relationship with Afghanistan was being held hostage to its relationship with Pakistan, Dr. Singh said that while he would not like to use such strong words, "it is certainly true that the effectiveness of our cooperation [with Afghanistan] in many areas will improve if Pakistan is also on board."

He said he would be meeting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in New York on September 14.

"The dialogue is on, but it is difficult to predict what the outcome would be."

Asked about the problem of "cross-border terrorism" from the Pakistani side being faced by India and Afghanistan, the Prime Minister did not make any observations on Islamabad.

"We have discussed all issues [with the Afghan side]," he said, "and I am quite satisfied with the outcome of the visit."

With respect to bilateral relations with Afghanistan, he said India's emphasis would now be on small development projects "which have a direct impact on the common man, especially in rural communities."

On the possibility of expanding security cooperation with Afghanistan and whether India had a problem with the "lead nation structure" [in which military assistance has to be channelled through the U.S.], Dr. Singh said India "is not in the business of thrusting cooperation, whether security cooperation or economic cooperation, on any unwilling country."

The Government of Afghanistan was the sole determinant of what sort of cooperation was required of India.

"This is an ongoing process. We share views, we share perspectives, and we act accordingly. There is no more to it than this [rather than] that we don't like a particular set-up."

Senior officials told The Hindu that for the moment, India was looking only at an expansion in its training programme for the Afghan police force.

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