Originally published on Mar 29, 2015,  Times of India

Strategic Chabahar transit deal soon, will bolster trade ties with India: Afghan ambassador

BHOPAL: A trilateral transit deal between Afghanistan, India and Iran will be signed shortly with the strategic Chabahar port project in Iran nearing completion — a giant leap to bypass Pakistan and boost trade ties with landlocked Afghanistan. "The draft agreement is ready, the finer points are being hammered out and we are waiting for a date to sign the tri-nation accord in Tehran. This alternative route will directly connect India with Afghanistan without hindrance. Our trade volume will catapult from current $700mn to billions of dollars," said Afghanistan ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali in an exclusive interview to TOI.
Last year, India announced $100mn investment in Chabahar, which is just 72 km from Pakistan's Gwadar port and 1000 km closer than Karachi port, which handles Afghanistan's imports. The deal will effectively shut out India's dependence on Pakistan, which disallows overland transit trade to Afghanistan. Abdali, who was in Bhopal on a three-day visit, also announced visa-on-arrival for Indians who want to do business in Afghanistan.
Speaking to TOI, Abdali also said that 10,000 American troops will remain in Afghanistan till 2016 and the arrangement could be renewed to allow them to stay till Afghanistan gains stability. "The renewal arrangement will depend on the ground situation. We need Americans for training and equipping Afghan soldiers. If the situation in Afghanistan is not conducive after 2016, we will ask the US troops to stay. The crisis in Iraq is different. There the Americans have totally withdrawn. ISIS is competing with Al Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan. But our nation won't collapse. The terrorists hit and run and regroup, but they are no longer a big threat."
To a query on women's rights being stifled by Taliban in Afghanistan, he said, "27% legislators in Afghan parliament are women while India has just 11% woman MPs. The situation has changed. Afghan women are more empowered now." Abdali also announced that Khost in Afghanistan as a sister city of Bhopal, which has a long history of Afghan influence. "There will be cultural, education and business exchanges between the two cities," he said.
Submit to DeliciousSubmit to DiggSubmit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to StumbleuponSubmit to TechnoratiSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn