Originally published on October 2015,  INDIA EMPIRE

 

In an interview on bilateral trade and economic relations, tourism and business opportunities and Indian community in Afghanistan, Ambassador of Afghanistan to India, Mr Shaida Mohammad Abdali talks to India Empire’s Assistant Editor Misha Singh. Mr Abdali is also concurrently accredited to Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. In his earlier assignments, he provided the President with policy and oversight advice on national security issues. He administered the National Security Council meetings and chaired the Deputies Committee Meetings of the National Security Council, which facilitated strategic coordination and communication among Afghan and international stakeholders to help address Afghanistan’s security and development needs. Internationally he has been honoured with the CCI Technology Education Excellence Award in 2014 for initiating and promoting education ties between India and Afghanistan; the Honorary Texan Award in the United States of America; the World Green Diplomacy Award in New Delhi in 2013; a gold medal for fostering diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and India by Amity University; and a Life Time Achievement Award by the Lions International Club; and recently Outstanding Achievements Award As the Ambassador of Afghanistan by National Defense University, thereon his image is permanently displayed at the International Hall of Fame

Please let us know about Afghanistan’s bilateral trade and economic relations with India…

Well in the outset let me brief you about the overall outline of the strategic partnership with India which concludes various areas of co-operation. Particularly the economic relationship is very crucial and this is not new, Afghanistan has been a traditional economically integrated country throughout the history. We are trying to expand this relationship as much as possible. We have been working on very strategic economic projects with India which will not only contribute to the economies of India and Afghanistan but the economies of the entire region.

Of course the transit trade agreements that are going to happen in the near future are on the top of the agenda for both countries. This would further promote our economic ties. Currently, we do not have many routes for business. But certainly there are businesses going both ways, large number of business from India go to Afghan and lots of Afghan businesses come to India. There are around 100 Indian companies in Afghanistan, although most of them are in Joint Ventures with Afghan companies in sectors such as services and construction. So, we are very optimistic that Afghan -India relationship will go high and high with the passage of time because of the will in the two countries to be connected socially, culturally, politically and economically. We are making efforts to include India in APTTA (Afghanistan Pakistan Transit and Trade Agreement), hopefully when that happens it will largely help in terms of connectivity between our countries and the businesses will flourish.

Have there been any developments in the bilateral relations of two countries after President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to India?

Definitely. Regardless of the Government or the leadership Afghanistan’s relationship with India is set strong. It only unfolds in an extensive way with the passage of time. Both countries have continuity in relationship with new count rather trying to promote it further. When the President was here he concentrated more on economic aspect of the relationship because the economy matters in terms of our joint goal that we are pursuing for people’s prosperity, development and stability. All of this depends on wellbeing of the people; if they prosper that will definitely have an effect on all the other aspects as well. So, the President’s visit was a very successful one, he discussed issue that I have earlier referred to like connectivity, business and APTTA. The visit was also because the two countries have a strong desire to further expand the relationship. I had proposed to President that we should open some other representative offices to further promote trade which included Consulate General in Hyderabad and an honorary consul’s office in Kolkata. I am glad that he sent a team to assess the feasibility in the context and the idea will soon be realized. I am also thinking of appointing a Commercial Attaché in Amritsar which is the connecting point, so that we have our representation there. This is because if in case any issue related economic or commercial activities arises in Amritsar, he/she would be on the spot to resolve and address the issue. Also, to promote visits of the businessmen from India, Afghanistan is considering extending Multiple Entry Visa for Indian businessmen on long term basis. So, we are constantly working on expansion of our ties with India.

What are the tourism opportunities in Afghanistan that you can let our readers know about?

Afghanistan used to have one of the highest revenues long time back in the 60’s and 70’s from the tourism sector. It is a beautiful country but we have to work together towards the promotion of the tourism industry in the two countries. We need to see how Afghanistan and India can work together on the tourism sector so that people of our country visit Indian and vice versa and also attract tourists from rest of the world. There are so many shared cultural and historical sites that we have in our two countries and we have a co-relationship with one another. So, because of the shared history and values we have to work together for mutual benefits in the promotion of tourism sector of our two countries. So, tourism sector is one of the focused areas of Afghanistan but we hope that there would be conducive and secured environment in order to attract tourists from all over the world.

How do you view the contribution of the Indian community in Afghanistan?

The Indians residing there are Afghans and we have basically no division when it comes to our shared goals and common values. We are blessed with a very diverse community in Afghanistan and Afghanistan without its Indian community or Afghan Hindus will be incomplete. I am always honoured to receive the Afghan Hindu community in Delhi when they are residing here and they come and celebrate with me. We celebrate all the National Days or occasions together here. So, the contribution of Indian community is as crucial as any other community in Afghanistan. They are Afghans, they contribute to the economy of Afghanistan and we hope that they will continue to do so.

Please outline for us the presence of Afghanistan’s companies in India, and Indian companies in Afghanistan…

As I mentioned earlier there are around 100 Indian companies in Afghanistan, they have tie-ups with Afghan businesses there. We are making constant effort to promote the joint business ties. We have begun promoting women business relationship in the last few months. When our first lady was here and the Afghan businessmen were here, we had a big event with FLO. We are also going to sign a MoU in the near future with women business community here and women business community of Afghanistan. So, we are not only promoting the businesses led by men but also the businesses led by women. There is also an exhibition that was organised by us where we invited the businesses from Afghanistan to showcase their products in India. The exhibition was organised under the SAARC umbrella. So, the effort to promote the presence of Afghan companies in India and also the ones who wish to open their office in India are taking place. There are a lot of companies that have contacted us for opening their offices in India, so we are also thinking of building an Afghan complex, where the products will be made available because there are so many Afghan’s living in India. There is large group of Afghan traders here in India basically dealing in dry fruits and fresh fruits sector and this is the business we have been having traditionally with India. But of course we need to promote it and promote other Afghan businesses in India in a more fashioned manner. We need to focus on the value addition services like the packaging and processing.

Please talk us through capacity building and training programmes in Defence and Security…

Well, that is an ongoing process. Army and police officers are being trained on a regular basis. This is under the Strategic Partnership Agreement that we signed in 2011 and it will go on. This is an ongoing co-operation in various areas which are envisaged in the agreement that we have, so all the areas of co-operation that exist in our framework will go on also without the agreement.

What kind of Line of Credit has been offered to Afghanistan by the Indian Government?

There is a programme; it is being conducted from our businesses there in various sectors both on large and small scale. But, this needs a further push in order to make it more visible. This is presently in a preliminary stage, we definitely want this to be lot bigger and overstitched in order to bring more and more businesses under the Line of Credit Programme as well.

Please tell us about the investment opportunities in Afghanistan for Indian exporters.

Afghanistan announced the New Investment Incentive Policy for attracting investment on long term basis in various sectors. These sectors include industry, construction, export promotion, agriculture and mining, wherein the investor would be provided 5 years rent free location, concessional electricity and import of machinery without tax. There are also a lot investment opportunities in sectors like healthcare, minerals, infrastructure, energy and minerals, transportation or logistics, banking, textiles and renewable energy.

What role is Chabahar Port in Iran likely to play in India-Afghan trade relations?

Chabahar Port in Iran is likely to significantly boost the volume of trade between India and Afghanistan by providing shorter route for transporting goods between the two countries besides providing direct access to Central Asia.

 

 

 

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