Washington: Amid controversial remarks of US Defence Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel on India`s role in Afghanistan, a top US official has termed New Delhi crucial for economic growth of the country post the withdrawal of American troops from there.
Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said during a Congressional hearing that the US sees India as kind of an economic linchpin for future of Afghanistan.
Blake termed India as one of the most trusted and valuable partners of the US in the region, noting that "any discussion of South Asia has to start with India."
"We appreciate very much the significant role that India is playing in Afghanistan. In fact, we see India as kind of the economic linchpin for future," Blake told lawmakers during a hearing by Asia and the Pacific Sub-committee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
He noted that India will play an important role in the process of turning Afghanistan into a trade-based economy from an "aid-based economy" once the US spendings get scaled down after the withdrawal of troops in 2014.
"As our troops (and) their spending draws down, it`s going to be much more important now to establish a private-sector basis for the Afghan economy and to make a trade-based economy and not an aid-based economy. India is such an important role to play in that" said Blake.
The official, who was in New Delhi last week for the trilateral dialogue with India and Afghanistan, said India has a very large investment programme in Afghanistan.
"It has invested in things like the Hajigak iron ore deposit that`s going to be probably an USD 8 billion to USD 10 billion investment. It hosted a major investment conference last year to promote foreign investment into Afghanistan. It has its own very substantial assistance programme of approximately USD 2 billion," he said.
"It very much has embraced this regional integration vision that (the former) Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton and now Secretary (John) Kerry have endorsed to open up all of these trade links, to allow for, for example, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and other forms of infrastructure -- road, rail and other openings -- that will link up this region in a very significant way."
"India is really at the heart of all of those efforts and is such an important partner for us," Blake said.