SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA, SMT. PRATIBHA DEVISINGH PATIL AT THE BANQUET IN HONOUR OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF AFGHANISTAN, H.E. MR. HAMID KARZAI
New Delhi, 4th August 2008
Your Excellency, President Hamid Karzai,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are privileged to welcome Your Excellency and the distinguished members of your delegation to India.
Mr. President, you are in our midst today as a leader of the Afghan nation and as a friend of India. We welcome you also as a partner in our common endeavour of working for the stability and prosperity of our two countries and that of our region.
Our relations with Afghanistan span centuries and millennia. We are embedded in each other's historical and cultural consciousness. SAARC became a truly South Asian Association only after Afghanistan joined it. Our bonds are dictated by geography and forged by history. We share traditions and our culture has been enriched over the centuries by this interaction.
Mr. President, in sharing a history, we have also shared the pain of the Afghan people caused by years of conflict and destruction. We have directly felt the tragic consequences when your land was used as a safe haven for training terrorists.
Since 2002 under your resolute leadership, Afghanistan has taken many steps to attain its goal of a pluralistic, democratic and inclusive society. Mr. President, we most sincerely and warmly congratulate and felicitate you, as you guide your nation through a critical period of its history. You face extraordinarily difficult circumstances and challenges. But Afghanistan is today in a moment of hope and to us, you do represent hope.
India has admired the progress made by Afghanistan over the last six years. We have applauded the achievements of the Afghan people in rebuilding their lives as well as in rebuilding the physical and human infrastructure of Afghanistan. We have noted with great admiration the school enrolment figures, the percentage of populace covered by basic health care, the thousands of kilometers of roads that have been rebuilt, the significant drop in infant and maternal mortality rates, as well as the large number of communities being serviced under the National Solidarity Programme. These developments demonstrate that the Afghan people welcome democracy, desire prosperity and seek to become a source of stability in the region.
India has endeavoured to be a partner in Afghanistan's progress and in its quest for peace, stability and development. We have endeavoured to be a meaningful partner and follow the priorities of the Afghan Government and people. Unfortunately, we have become also a target of those who do not share the vision of a stable and democratic Afghanistan. The attack on our Embassy last month on the 7th of July was a barbaric act of terrorism. It was an attempt directed to undermining the friendly relations between India and Afghanistan. Your visit to India is a demonstration that such attempts will not, and cannot, succeed and that our friendship has emerged the stronger from this most unfortunate tragedy.
Our partnership has grown into a multi dimensional cooperation programme. This encompasses education, health, telecommunications, transport, civil aviation, agriculture and irrigation, industry, power generation and transmission, capacity building and human resource development. I have no doubt that this cooperation will grow in the years to come.
Earlier this morning, we announced an additional pledge of US $ 450 million from the people of India for the people of Afghanistan under our Assistance Programme, in alignment with the priorities of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, as a mark of our affirmation of support.
Mr. President, on behalf of the Government and the people of India, I reaffirm our commitment in working together to support you in your efforts in making Afghanistan a stable and prosperous country and in achieving for the people of Afghanistan the dreams that you cherish and that we share as part of our historical traditions.
In conclusion, may I propose a toast to: -
- the health and happiness of His Excellency President Hamid Karzai;
- peace, progress and prosperity of the friendly people of Afghanistan; and
- abiding friendship and cooperation between India and Afghanistan.