Afghanistan has undergone great trials and tribulations. But we know that the Afghan people are proud, brave and fiercely independent. They are strong and resilient in the face of adversity. These are qualities widely admired in India.
In the ten years since it decided to turn its back on the past and face the future, Afghanistan has made significant progress in many areas. There are undoubtedly many challenges ahead. The process of nation-building is long and full of hurdles. National reconstruction needs sustained hard work and sacrifice.
Our countries face similar development challenges. India is ready to partner the Afghan people, as they rebuild their country, in accordance with their own priorities and national circumstances. Our experience of policy implementation in India tells us that participative democracy is a vital agent of social and economic empowerment at the grassroots. The Afghan Parliament already has reservation for women. We have found that similar reservation in local bodies in India is creating a new dynamic of development with a human face.
School enrolment in your country has increased from one million to seven million since 2002, and enrolment of girls has doubled over the past four years. I know that it is your topmost priority to put every child in school. In India, the mid-day meal scheme has been very successful. We have been supplying fortified biscuits to Afghan school children for the last few years. But what we teach our children is equally important. In India, we have recently overhauled the school curriculum. What children learn in school should be related to their lives outside it. They should imbibe a sense of nationhood and values of tolerance and respect for others. Education should stimulate and open their minds to creative imagination. The hopes of our nations rest on their little shoulders.
Building infrastructure is yet another challenge. We have tried to provide such assistance, as we could to provide electricity and roads in Afghanistan. I am happy that the transmission line built from Pul-e-Khumri is now bringing a steady supply of electricity to the Capital. I am happy that the sacrifices made in building the Zaranj-Delaram highway have not gone in vain. The population of Zaranj has increased. Trade is thriving and customs revenues have grown.
The people of India feel privileged to see their development cooperation receive such a warm welcome in Afghanistan. Nothing would give us greater satisfaction than to see Indian resources being utilised for more roads, electricity, schools, hospitals or community projects — activities that directly benefit the common Afghan people.
We will increase development outlays towards capacity building and skill development. This will include more scholarships for Afghan students for studying in India, institution-building efforts and higher investment in the health sector by way of a medical package. We will provide buses for Kabul and other municipalities. We propose to upgrade the agricultural department at the Kabul University to an agricultural university, donate tractors to farmers and give scholarships for agricultural sciences study.
We will significantly enhance our commitment for the small development projects’ schemes at the grassroots, with the involvement of local communities. We will help in the preservation and revival of Afghanistan’s archeological and cultural heritage and restoration of the historic Stor Palace in Kabul. The total outlay on these and other additional initiatives that we will take in consultation with the government of Afghanistan in the next few years will amount to $500 million. This will take our total commitment of assistance to around $2 billion.
I pay tribute to all those innocent men, women and children who have lost their lives in search for a better tomorrow. The people of India feel and share their pain and suffering. Terrorism and extremism only bring death and destruction in their wake. They provide no answers to problems of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and disease. Eventually, our centuries old tradition of living in peace and harmony with each other and with nature will prevail over these deviant ideologies. We cannot and must not allow the flames of extremism and terrorism to be fanned once again.
Afghanistan has embarked upon a process of national reconciliation. It is up to you, as the peoples’ representatives to make decisions about your country’s future without outside interference. India will respect your choices. We hope that Afghanistan will be able to build a framework of regional cooperation that will help its nation building efforts.
Excerpts from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech in the Afghanistan Parliament on May 13