New Delhi: With Pakistan warily watching its moves, India is firming up ambitious plans that include a rail link between Chabahar port in Iran and resource-rich Hajigak region in Afghanistan as it gears up to participate in a key international conference in Istanbul on Wednesday.
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna flew to Turkey on Tuesday to participate in the conference that is being attended by twelve countries, including Afghanistan, the US, Pakistan and Iran.
Ahead of the conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari met along with Turkish President Abdullah Gul for talks that are aimed at reducing trust deficit between Islamabad and Kabul.
In his speech at the conference on Wednesday, Krishna is expected to highlight India`s growing stakes in peace and stability in Afghanistan and its plans to improve connectivity in that country that will ease its dependence on Pakistan.
India`s participation is important as it was kept out at the behest of Pakistan at the Istanbul conference last year.
Krishna is expected to tell the conference about key features of the strategic partnership and outline some plans for improving connectivity and agricultural productivity in Afghanistan.
One of the ambitious ideas that is being fleshed out is a plan to construct a 900-km railway line that will connect the India-built Chabahar port in Iran, with Hajigak region of Afghanistan, which contains one of the world`s largest iron ore reserves.
Islamabad is set to oppose such a move as the rail link will provide India greater room for manoeuvre in Afghanistan. India has built the strategic Zaranj-Delaram road link that connects Afghanistan to Central Asia. When the road was built, Indian workers and facilities engaged with it were targeted many a time by militants suspected to be linked with Pakistan`s military-ISI establishment.
India has already has pledged USD 2 billion for a host of reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
Ahead of the Istanbul conference, the US has underlined that India has an important role to play in Afghanistan. Last month, India became the first country to sign a defining strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan that entails, among other things, a formal commitment by New Delhi to train Afghan National Security Forces.
The conference will discuss the nature of international involvement in Afghanistan in view of the phased pullout of coalition troops from that country by 2014 and focus on evolving a regional mechanism to monitor developments there.
Pakistan is said to be opposed to the regional mechanism as it may include India whose growing involvement in Afghanistan is resented by the military-ISI establishment in Rawalpindi.