Afghanistan’s new president told the Indian and Pakistani leaders Wednesday he would not let his country become the battleground for a proxy war. The imminent departure of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan has raised fears that India-Pakistan rivalry could escalate, further destabilising the two countries’ troubled neighbour as it tries to rebuild after decades of war.
President Ashraf Ghani issued his warning to South Asian leaders meeting in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu to try to reinvigorate regional co-operation held back by decades of rivalry between India and Pakistan. “We will not allow our territory to be used against any of our neighbours. But we will not permit anybody to conduct proxy wars on our soil either,” he told the leaders including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif.
Ghani said state sponsorship of non-state actors could have “blowback effects”, and described the aftermath of a suicide blast at a volleyball game in Afghanistan that killed 57 people on Sunday. “To hold wounded children in one’s arms in a hospital, as I was late Sunday evening, is to feel the depth of our fall from our sense of shared humanity and the values of our great religions,” he said. Call to fight poverty. During his speech Modi pointedly referred to deadly attacks in Mumbai exactly six years ago.
BALL IN INDIA’S COURT Modi told Ghani India was committed to strengthening relations with Afghanistan, India’s foreign ministry spokesman tweeted after the two leaders held their first face-to-face talks on the summit’s sidelines.
India, the largest regional investor in Afghanistan, enjoyed close relations with Ghani’s predecessor and is building a huge new parliament in Kabul and funding new roads, dams, infrastructure and reconstruction. Modi scheduled one-on-one talks with all the SAARC leaders except Sharif, according to an Indian official who said Islamabad had not requested a meeting. Sharif said the ball was in India’s court after it cancelled senior-level talks earlier this year.
“SAARC’s main problem is that SAARC is basically about India and Pakistan, with the Afghanistan dimension thrown in now,” said Sujeev Shakya, chairman of the Nepal Economic Forum. Modi said India would lead a drive to increase regional trade, committing to reduce his country’s large trade deficit with other South Asian nations and make it easier for goods to cross its borders.
He also pledged to launch a communications satellite dedicated to the SAARC nations by 2016. Trade between them – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – has grown from under $140 million in 2008 to $878 million in 2012, but still accounts for less than five percent of the region’s total commerce.