"India’s connectivity to our West continues, though, remains blighted. We have sought to bypass an unwilling regime in Islamabad by establishing in June 2017 an air freight corridor between India and Afghanistan, which we plan to expand to more cities," Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale asserted while addressing a Regional Connectivity Conference: South Asia in the Indo-Pacific context here.
"We are also seeking to develop the Chabahar Port as a gateway for onward connectivity to and from Afghanistan and Central Asia. Since its inauguration last year, we have shipped about 110 thousand metric tons of much-needed wheat and 2000 metric tons of pulses from India to Afghanistan through this Port. To tap its full potential for benefit of Afghanistan, we might also need to pursue the development of a rail line from Chabahar to Zahedan at some future stage," Gokhale also mentioned in the presence of US envoy to India Ken Juster sending a message of sorts on India's determination to develop Chabahar Port notwithstanding sanctions by the Trump administration.
Later Juster told reporters that the two governments are discussing the issue of US waiver for India's Chabahar Port. The conference is being organised by leading think tank CUTS international.
Referring to Irans significance as India's gateway to Eurasian region, Gokhale noted, "There is also 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 had a message for China's Belt and Road Initiative and CPECNSE 0.00 that passes through PoK.
Pointing out that physical hardware of connectivity across nations can only sustain itself in a common and universally applicable rules-based world order, the senior diplomat noted, "Such an order must uphold sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of all nations. All nations must respect their international commitments. This is the foremost requirement, and therefore a pressing need in our part of the world (Indian Ocean) and any such arrangement must naturally accord due primacy to the States located in the geography of the Indian Ocean."
Second, connectivity can be meaningful only when everyone has equal access under international law to the use of global commons that would require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, the Foreign Secretary pointed out.
"Connectivity efforts in the region must be based on principles of economic viability and financial responsibility. They should promote economic activity and not place nations under irredeemable debt burden. All connectivity initiatives must follow universally recognized international norms, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality. Incorporation of ecological and environmental standards and skill and technology transfer makes connectivity and infrastructure sustainable in the long term. connectivity initiatives that straddle national boundaries must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations. They should promote trade, not tension." India has strong objections to China's model of financing for BRI and CPEC including a recent bus service through the disputed territory.
India and Indonesia are setting up a Task Force to promote connectivity between Sumatra and Andaman Islands, said Gokhale adding "We are also looking at developing the Sabang port in partnership with Indonesia. We intend to establish direct shipping routes between India and Vietnam."
"Regional connectivity in South Asia is today very much of relevance to the wider Indo-Pacific and the world at large. This is because physical connectivity is only a part of the larger web of trade and economic interaction, digital connectivity, people-to-people links and knowledge connectivity that are the defining parameters of the Indo-Pacific region. India views the Indo-Pacific as a positive construct of development and connectivity, in which India can play a unique role by virtue of its geographical location and economic gravity."
Recalling PM's speech at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, Gokhale stressed, "we believe in a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific Region, which includes all nations in this geography and others who have a stake in it."
Feshly out of the Japan-India summit meeting of 28th and 29th October, Japanese Ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu shared with the audience the result of fruitful discussions between Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abe. The Ambassador touched upon how the two leaders have aligned their vision on a free and open Indo-Pacific, while providing concrete examples of projects Japan and India are working on in third countries, such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Africa, as well as in India, including its North East Region.