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New Delhi, Kabul to start air freight service to boost trade

LiveMint logoLiveMint 16-06-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: India and Afghanistan will start an air freight service to boost trade between the two countries, so far hampered by Pakistan’s refusal to allow Indian goods to be sent to Afghanistan by the land route due to tensions between the two South Asian neighbours.

The first cargo flight—operated by Afghanistan’s national carrier Ariana—is expected to reach New Delhi from Kabul over the weekend or early next week, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay told reporters on Friday.

The flight “will operate between New Delhi and Kabul. We are still in the process of finalizing the details,” Baglay said.

The decision to launch an air freight service between India—the biggest economy in South Asia—and landlocked Afghanistan, was taken during a visit by President Ashraf Ghani to India last year.

It follows many attempts by India and Afghanistan to persuade Pakistan to allow movement of goods via its territory to boost trade between the two countries, in a bid to stabilise war-torn Afghanistan’s fragile economy.

Pakistan, however, has so far not relented.

“The idea of establishing a dedicated air freight corridor is to operate a dedicated freight flight between India and Afghanistan,” Baglay said.

“This decision was taken in view of the difficulties that we have on the ground in terms of connectivity between the two countries,” he added, without blaming Pakistan directly.

It was expected that a 2010 pact between Afghanistan and Pakistan on transit trade would be extended to India to allow Indian goods to pass through Pakistan.

But that hope was belied when Pakistan refused to allow Afghan trucks to come up to the Indian border at Attari or take back Indian goods.

Pakistan also refused to comply with the terms of a South Asian regional arrangement that would allow India to trade with Afghanistan.

One of the reasons for Afghanistan to join the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or Saarc, in 2007, was to ensure greater regional integration and connectivity with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan besides the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

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In 2014, Pakistan rejected a Saarc motor vehicles agreement that would have ensured connectivity among member-countries.

According to Baglay, the frequency of the air freight service would depend on the demand for the goods that will be traded.

“At the moment I don’t think the idea is to operate the flight every day,” he said, adding: “It has obviously to cater to the current volume of goods.”

“At the moment the idea is to see if this (air freight service) can be (operated) with the frequency of once within a month or every fortnight,” Baglay said, adding, “We need to see what is the viability of it.”

“It is, at the end of the day, a commercial venture which is supported very heavily, very strongly and very purposefully by both the governments,” he said.

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