December 3, 2009 — India's ambassador to the United States, Meera Shankar, told a University of Virginia audience on Wednesday evening that there will be "catastrophic consequences" if the United States does not ramp up its military presence in Afghanistan as President Obama pledged a night earlier.
Shankar made her remarks to students, faculty and guests at U.Va.'s McIntire School of Commerce. The Indian ambassador was the guest of U.Va.'s vice provost for international programs, Gowher Rizvi, whose office is conducting an Ambassador's Speakers Forum. Ambassadors from Pakistan and Denmark also have spoken on Grounds this fall.
Shankar said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was in Washington last week on a state visit, stressed to Obama that Afghanistan requires sustained attention.
"If it were abandoned, there would be catastrophic consequences. The pools of terrorism in the region need to be shrunk," Shankar said. "The elimination of terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries in Pakistan and Afghanistan is not only vital for security and stability in our region, it is also vital for making our world a safer place."
India has committed $1.2 billion for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan and is building roads, schools, hospitals and energy infrastructure there, she said. "We are also helping to improve Afghan capacities, particularly through access to higher education," Shankar said.
In a prime-time speech Tuesday evening, Obama pledged to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan beginning early next year to defeat Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists and restore stability in Kabul. He said these additional troops will speed the transfer of responsibility to Afghan forces and allow U.S. troops to begin withdrawing by July 2011.
In her U.Va. speech, Shankar also noted the recent one-year anniversary of the Mumbai attacks, when Pakistani gunmen seized India's financial capital in a three-day massacre that left more than 160 people dead. She said the United States helped "us decipher how the attacks happened. There has been very good cooperation on the counterterrorism question."
On higher education, Shankar said, "Today, there are over 100,000 Indian students at American universities – the highest from any foreign country – who will become the future leaders of our two countries and seed new ideas and partnerships to take our relationship forward."
Shankar said education is one of India's top three domestic priorities. "We will expand and reform our education sector to bring about a true transformation of the economy and in the lives of our people – a process that has already begun with our Right to Education Bill that makes free and compulsory education till the age of 14 a fundamental right."