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India Urges Neighbors to Share in Its Economic Prosperity


New Delhi's top diplomat, Shyam Saran, has urged countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal to view India as "an opportunity, not a threat," and to share in the growing prosperity of one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Foreign Secretary Saran says India is willing to open its markets and share technology to help its smaller South Asian neighbors become partners in its dynamic growth.

"In a word, we are prepared to make our neighbors full stake holders in India's economic destiny," he said.

Mr. Saran's remarks came in a speech Monday evening before an audience of diplomats and foreign policy analysts. It is seen as an effort by New Delhi to turn the focus of its ties with South Asian countries to economics and trade rather than divisive political disputes.

India, the largest country in the region, has had uneasy relations with some of its neighbors. Its dispute with Pakistan over the divided Kashmir region has soured relations for decades. It accuses both Pakistan and Bangladesh of allowing anti-Indian militant groups to operate from their territory - charges both countries deny.

India now sees greater economic linkage as the way to ease traditional mistrust and hostilities. But Mr. Saran says neighboring countries have to take New Delhi's security concerns into account.

"While we are willing and ready to accept this regional economic partnership, we do expect they demonstrate sensitivity to our concerns," said Mr. Saran. "These vital concerns relate to allowing the use of their territories for cross-border terrorism and hostile activity against India, for example by insurgent and secessionist groups."

Foreign policy analyst Bharat Karnad of New Delhi's Center for Policy Research says India's neighbors have more to gain than to lose by embracing the new offer.

"It is a very reasonable deal that is being offered, and it is nothing that our neighboring countries should look askance at, because it serves their purpose," said Mr. Karnad. "All India is saying is, benefit all you want and all you can from the kind of openings you have to India, but also keep in mind that we also have a security interest."

Mr. Saran, in his speech, called for the establishment of a free-trade zone that would allow South Asia's 1.3 billion people to share in "collective prosperity."