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Afghanistan chief executive Abdullah to inaugurate trade show in New Delhi today

LiveMint logoLiveMint 27-09-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Afghanistan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah arrives in New Delhi on Wednesday to inaugurate a first of its kind three-day India-Afghanistan Trade and Investment show supported by the US Agency for International Aid and the government of India.

The fair, which will showcase Afghan products like carpets, gems, dry fruits and marble as well as opportunities for investment in areas like education and health, follows India’s commitment to help Afghanistan economically at the Heart of Asia process (HoA).

The HoA aims to stabilise the war torn country with the help of its immediate neighbours and international organisations. The last HoA ministerial conference was hosted by India in Amritsar in December.

The show coincidentally comes just over a month after US President Donald Trump unveiled his South Asia and Afghan policy on 22 August that envisioned a stepped up role for India in stabilising Afghanistan wracked by a violent Taliban insurgency. A “critical part” of the South-Asia strategy for America “is to further develop its strategic partnership with India; the world’s largest democracy, and a key security and economic partner of the United States. We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan... and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development,” Trump had said in his speech in August.

Trump also spoke of a conditions-based approach to deployment and withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan rather than a time-based approach, besides berating Pakistan for supporting “safe-havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.”

A press release from the US embassy in New Delhi on the Afghan investment show on Tuesday said: “Cultivating and nurturing strong economic bonds between countries is a foundation that offers a bounty of benefits for each nation. In addition to more employment opportunities, stronger economies, and enhanced regional integration, these bonds build partnerships and prosperity, and a platform to deepen shared cultural and historical heritages.”

“The goal of this event is to strengthen economic ties between Afghanistan and India through partnerships. The event will highlight recently signed agreements, showcase Afghan companies and Indian innovation, and launch a forthcoming roadmap for future engagement,” the US embassy statement said.

The US has been trying for years to make Afghanistan economically self reliant but investments from countries like India and China are stalled due to the deteriorating security situation in the country. Abdullah Abdullah will be accompanied by a 14 member delegation of ministers and deputy ministers.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley will be the Indian representative inaugurating the Afghan investment show. Also present will be Special Chargé d’ affaires US Embassy Afghanistan ambassador Hugo Llorens and Chargé d’ affaires of the US Embassy in Delhi, MaryKay Carlson.

“This is the biggest such event we have had so far,” a senior American official, associated with the Afghan Investment show told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday. “Our real hope is that apart from growing trade figures, the social sector, especially projects in health and education will receive support from Indian companies.”

According to the official, about 240 Afghan private and social sector businesses and about 800 Indian businesses have registered to participate in the show that is being held for the first time on this scale. There have been other such events but on a smaller scale organised seven times in the past 14 years.

“We now hope to hold this event annually, and could hold next year’s trade show in Mumbai,” the official said adding there were plans to take the fair international as well with shows to be organised in countries like Japan.

Security and connectivity issues that were seen as dampeners to boosting Afghan trade and investment were no longer seen as major impediments, the US official said adding that an air corridor between India and Afghanistan inaugurated in June this had operated 20 flights to bring in perishable commodities like fruits to the Indian market. For non-perishable items like marble, an alternative route through Iran’s Chabahar port would be ideal, the US official cited above said.

India is one of the biggest donors of aid to Afghanistan having committed $3.1 billion since 2001 when US led forces overthrew the Taliban regime in Kabul. Earlier this month, New Delhi announced it would begin work on 116 new development projects in more than 30 areas of Afghanistan.

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