India and Afghanistan have decided to sign an accord to establish an air corridor in the region.
On Sunday, Pajhwok Afghan News quoted President Ashraf Ghani as saying: “We reached an agreement with India for establishment of an air corridor.” The Afghan president, who recently visited New Delhi, also said that the proposed corridor would make it easier for the two South Asian neighbours to transport goods, bypassing Pakistan.
During his two-day visit to New Delhi, President Ghani requested the Indian businessmen to use the air route for trade, stressing that the move would help his landlocked country overcome the constraints of “bad” neighbours. He also slammed Pakistan for not allowing Afghanistan to engage in trade with India through its land routes. As Islamabad turned down his request, the president said that Pakistan could not stop him from strengthening trade ties with India.
President Ghani explained that Kabul wanted to use the Wagah-Attari route for bilateral trade with New Delhi by making some changes in the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), which has been restrictive in this aspect. However, the Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad refused to make any changes in the APTTA – a bilateral trade agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan signed in 1950. On the basis of APTTA, the war-ravaged country enjoys the right to import duty-free goods through Karachi.
The US, too, had welcomed President Ghani’s attempt to include India in the transit trade agreement. Deputy spokesperson of the US State Department Mark C Toner said: “I would just say, speaking broadly, that we would support stronger trade relations within the region. And we’ve long said that it’s a priority for the US, at least, but it should be a priority for the countries in the region to all work more co-operatively and constructively together. And a trade agreement would be part of that.”
However, the ongoing tension between Pakistan and India prompted the concerned authorities in Islamabad to reject the Afghan president’s request. During his meeting with Modi in New Delhi last week, the Afghan president informed the Indian PM that Kabul was ready to establish an air corridor in the region to boost trade with India. Prime Minister Modi immediately accepted the proposal to build a corridor jointly with Kabul.
In New York, senior Indian, Afghan and American diplomats held a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week mainly to discuss ways to overcome Pakistan’s selective blockade of the landlocked South Asian country. ”The meeting provided a forum for the US government and the government of India to explore ways to co-ordinate and align their assistance with the priorities of the Afghan government,” said a joint statement following the meeting.
India’s main objectives in Afghanistan include orderly security, successful political and economic transition, and ensuring the safety and security of its assets and personnel.