New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) The establishment of an India-Afghanistan air freight corridor this year was welcomed by all stakeholders at a meeting hosted by India of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, a platform to encourage security, political, and economic cooperation among strife-torn Afghanistan and its neighbours, here on Monday.
“With regard to the bilateral initiatives taken by India, the recent establishment of the air freight corridor between India and Afghanistan was welcomed as providing fast and assured access to farmers of Afghanistan to the large markets in South Asia and beyond,” the External Affairs Ministry said in statement following the eighth meeting of the Regional Technical Group of Confidence Building Measure on Trade, Commerce and Investment Opportunities under the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process.
“India’s assistance for capacity building and training of Afghan officials, including on PPP mode of project implementation; and the WTO-related matter, programmes for which that were conducted by the Ministry of Finance and the Department of Commerce, Government of India the past few months were also acknowledged positively,” it added.
The India-Afghanistan air freight corridor was established earlier this year with the first flight taking off from Kabul for New Delhi on June 19.
Monday’s meeting was co-chaired by the Acting Director General, Economic Cooperation Department in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hassan Soroosh, and Joint Secretary in India’s Ministry of External Affairs Deepak Mittal.
It was attended by representatives of 17 participating countries and supporting international organisations, including Azerbaijan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Egypt, Germany, Britain, the US, the European Union and the UN.
“The participants shared the view that Afghanistan acted as a natural bridge in promoting regional connectivity and economic integration.
“There was consensus that economic development was an important factor in ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan and the Heart of Asia region,” the statement said.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was established in November 2011 to expand coordination between Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners in facing common threats, including counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, poverty, and extremism.
The US and over 20 other nations and organisations support the process.
According to the statement, the participants in Monday’s meeting shared views on various measures and steps to promote transit and trade and realising reliable and robust connectivity, with Afghanistan as the hub.
“This included the recognition of the need to make the existing transit and trade agreements more inclusive and comprehensive by expanding them both northwards and southwards to connect South Asia with Central Asia; strengthening growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and involvement of women in economic development, including through women entrepreneurship; and simplifying customs procedures,” it said.
The initiative by India to develop a web portal, with participation of industry body Ficci, for exchanging information on regional markets, trade and investment opportunities, and facilitating networking between businesses for the participating countries also came in for appreciation.
According to the statement, the steps taken for development of transit and transport through Chahbahar port in Iran involving India, Afghanistan and Iran, the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, and the CASA-1000 (Central Asia-South Asia power project) were appreciated.
The TAT (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan) railway line and the Lapis Lazuli corridor were also assessed positively.
The Lapis Lazuli corridor connects Afghanistan with Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia to the Black Sea and ultimately through Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.
“All sides agreed on the value of such connectivity and economic integration projects to overall growth, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan,” the statement said.