Modi, Ghani likely to discuss air cargo link bypassing Pakistan for bilateral trade

Written by | December 3, 2016 | 0

Amritsar: India and Afghanistan could firm up an air corridor connectivity project to enable the landlocked country to trade with India, the biggest country and market for Afghan goods in South Asia, given that Pakistan has refused direct trade between the two countries through its territory.

The proposal, which entails transport of goods as air cargo between one or two cities in Afghanistan to one or two destinations in India, could come up in a meeting on Saturday between Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ghani is to arrive in Amritsar later Saturday for the Heart of Asia ministerial conference to take place on Sunday aimed at helping the insurgency wracked country get on its feet economically and sustain itself after more than a decade of international presence and focus on Afghanistan. India is the co-chair of the Heart of Asia meet that started in Amritsar on Saturday with the senior officials meet of participating countries.

“I’m sure it will come up,” said a person familiar with the developments referring to the setting up of the air corridor. “Corridor route(s) would be as per market needs,” the person said.

The two countries are looking at the project given that Pakistan has refused Afghan permission to trade with India using road and rail routes through its territory.

The Attari-Wagah border between India and Pakistan is less than 30 kilometres away from Amritsar. India is expected to use the Heart of Asia conference to separately press Islamabad to allow trucks, carrying goods from Afghanistan that transit through Pakistan, all the way to India and other south Asian markets. New Delhi has been arguing that war-ravaged Afghanistan would be able to achieve its economic potential only if it is allowed freedom of transit to major markets in south Asia.

An agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan on trade first signed in 2010, does not allow for Afghan trucks, that bring goods from Afghanistan to the Wagah border in Pakistan, to carry back products from India to Afghanistan. At Wagah, too, goods have to be unloaded from trucks coming from Afghanistan and reloaded again on other vehicles to be brought to Attari.

The trade and transit pact was revised earlier this year, but this too has no provisions for Indian goods to be taken to Pakistan.

The bilateral air corridor project is expected to underline the larger theme of connectivity among the Heart of Asia countries.

India’s choice of Amritsar as a venue also seems aimed at sending out a message to Pakistan which has been seen as the main deal breaker when it comes to integrating south Asia.

Modi will be joined by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani at the inauguration of the Heart of Asia conference on 4 December when Kabul is expected to underscore India’s view on the importance of regional connectivity.

The ministerial conference is taking place as Afghanistan faces a resurgence of Taliban.

The conference is being attended by nearly 40 countries and leading groups and organisations like the European Union.

On Saturday, senior officials of 14 countries that are immediate and extended neighbours of Afghanistan including India, China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan and representatives of 17 supporting nations were deliberating on a number of issues facing the region including its complex security scenario and the threats posed by terrorism, radicalisation and extremism.

Issues like enhancing Afghanistan’s connectivity with South and Central Asian countries to boost trade were being discussed at the senior officials’ meeting which was co-chaired by foreign secretary S Jaishankar and deputy foreign minister of Afghanistan Hikmat Khaleel Karzai, a second person familiar with the developments said.

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