Connectivity initiatives must promote trade, not tension, asserts Foreign Secretary
New Delhi: Connectivity initiatives that straddle national boundaries must be pursued in a manner that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said Thursday, asserting that such projects must promote trade and not tension.
His remarks assume significance with India boycotting China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative on the grounds of territorial sovereignty, as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, OBOR's flagship connectivity and trade project, passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Gokhale, in his address at the Regional Connectivity Conference here, said India's connectivity to its west remains "blighted", and it has sought to bypass an "unwilling regime" in Pakistan by establishing in June last year an air freight corridor between India and Afghanistan, which it plans to expand to more cities.
India is seeking to develop the Chabahar Port as a gateway for onward connectivity to and from Afghanistan and Central Asia, he said.
"Since its inauguration last year, we have shipped about 110 thousand metric tonnes of much-needed wheat and 2,000 metric tonnes of pulses from India to Afghanistan through this port.
"To tap its full potential for the benefit of Afghanistan, we might also need to pursue the development of a rail line from Chabahar to Zahedan at some future stage. There is also the potential for the development of the International North-South Transport Corridor which will considerably reduce time and cost of transport from India to Central Asia," Gokhale said.
Regional connectivity in South Asia is of much relevance to the broader Indo-Pacific and the world at large, he said.
He, however, cautioned that "connectivity initiatives that straddle national boundaries must be pursued in a manner that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations".
"They should promote trade, not tension," the foreign secretary asserted.
US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster, in his remarks at the conference, said, there were several benefits of stepping up connectivity, but cautioned that it also carries significant risks such as illicit trade, political interference and vulnerability to cyber attacks.
Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu said there were substantive discussions between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart at the recently-concluded summit in Japan and the two leaders vowed to strengthen cooperation for promoting connectivity. With PTI inputs