Developing strategic partnership with India is a critical element of President Donald Trump's South Asia strategy, a senior administration official said Thursday noting that there were encouraging results of the move.
"The United States welcomes India's substantial investment in and assistance to Afghanistan. And we will continue to support efforts to achieve an honourable and enduring outcome in Afghanistan that preserves our investment in Afghanistan's future," said Nancy Jackson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Afghanistan Affairs.
Speaking at the event, Indian ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla said India has played an active role in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan since 2001.
India has completed 400 social infrastructure projects in this war-torn country and another 150 were under way, he said.
All the Indian projects are undertaken in partnership with the Afghan government and are spread across each and every of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan in diverse fields of development, including education, healthcare, infrastructure, administrative capacity, flood control, irrigation, agriculture, sports, he said.
"So far, close to 400 social infrastructure projects have been completed and 150 projects are under various stages of progress covering all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.... Under our New Development Partnership, several important projects focused on developmental needs and priorities of Afghanistan have been identified for implementation including Shahtoot Dam and drinking water project for Kabul city, low-cost housing for returning Afghan refugees in Nangarhar province, among many others, he said.
"These projects are a reflection of India's enduring commitment towards Afghanistan's reconstruction," Shringla said, adding, "India is committed to support Afghanistan in its journey to emerge as a united, sovereign, democratic, peaceful, stable, prosperous and inclusive nation."
Delivering the keynote address to 'The India-Afghanistan Relationship: Examining Historical, Political, Economic, and Cultural Ties', organised by think tank Hudson Institute, Jackson said, "For too long, the Taliban have taken comfort in their conviction that our fight is unsustainable."
"Our friends and adversaries should understand that our interest in protecting American citizens is enduring, as we advance in a responsible way forward toward a peace settlement that will benefit not only Afghans, but the entire region,” Jackson said in a warning to the terrorist organisations operating from the region.
According to the US official, the US Administration understands that the American people are ready to end the war in Afghanistan while remaining committed to countering the threat of terrorism from groups anywhere in the region.
"In 2017, the President's South Asia strategy acknowledged that military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan or stop the terrorist threat arising from that country,” she said. Rather, the American military effort is designed to create conditions for a negotiated settlement.
This effort involves military resolve in Afghanistan, with decisions based on conditions on the ground, she told the Washington DC audience.
“Another critical element of the President's South Asia strategy is for America to further develop its strategic partnership with India — the world's largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States,” Jackson said.
The senior State Department official appreciated India's important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, including USD 3 billion in civilian assistance since 2001.
“For our part, we remain committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region,” she said.
“We have seen encouraging signs over the last 18 months that the South Asia strategy is working, and is beginning to set conditions for a political settlement that includes the Taliban, the Afghan government and other Afghans, including women's groups,” said the US official.
An inclusive political settlement, in turn, will lay the groundwork for political stability and an improvement in security conditions, she said.
At the same time, she said that no one should be under any illusion that a political settlement will immediately mean an end to violence. “There will still be violent extremist groups like ISIS, and there will still be armed groups pursuing their own criminal or political objectives,” she said.
“A comprehensive peace agreement will, however, enable Afghans to work together to fight these common threats, including the threat posed by the international terrorist organisations that threaten our societies,” Jackson said.
India and the United States, who want to see a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, also share an interest in an economically self-sufficient and prosperous Afghanistan. “India and the United States are among Afghanistan's largest trading partners, with both of our countries doing about USD 1 billion in annual bilateral trade with Afghanistan,” Jackson said.
India has done much to help Afghanistan's development, from the construction of dams, roads, electrical lines, irrigation systems, and telecommunications infrastructure to building a stadium in Kandahar for Afghanistan's cricket team, she said.
India is helping the Afghan Red Crescent Society treat children with congenital heart disease. India provides scholarships to 1,000 Afghan students each year out of the 16,000 Afghans who are studying in India, she told the audience.
Referring to the USAID-sponsored “Passage to Prosperity” India-Afghanistan International Trade and Investment Shows, Jackson said it has been attended by hundreds of Afghan businesses and thousands of Indian private sector representatives. The 2018 Passage to Prosperity event resulted in nearly USD350 million in deals between Indian and Afghan businesses, and this year's event was a similar success.