Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday set a target of USD 10 billion for bilateral trade and investment with India in five years, underlining the importance of a concrete road map for future collaboration.
He marked out retail, power, pharmaceuticals, solar energy, water management, ports and skill development as areas that hold immense potential. “You spoke of a road map. Let’s start with a target of USD 10 billion in trade and investment, five years and we are going to realise it,” Ghani said at a business meet here. India-Afghanistan bilateral trade stood at USD 643 million in 2015-16.
The President proposed formation of a taskforce between the industry chambers of the two countries and governments for laying a concrete road map of future collaboration. The visiting Afghan President thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allocation of USD 1 billion for Afghanistan’s capacity and capability-building in education, health, agriculture, skill development, women empowerment, energy, infrastructure and strengthening of democratic institutions.
“Committing a billion dollars to the future of Afghanistan is not just a commitment of money, it is a statement of confidence of belief in a strategic partnership,” he acknowledged. Stating that Afghanistan had invested over USD 30 million in its airports, Ghani proposed formation of a joint cargo company with India. He also spoke of Afghan fruits that can be made affordable for middle class and low-income Indian households.
Noting that the Kandahar airport has “first-grade cold storage capabilities”, Ghani sought investment from Indian supermarket chains. In an apparent jibe at Pakistan, Ghani said: “My request is for 4-5 major Indian supermarket chains to free us from the constraints of those neighbours who do not wish us well.” Pegging the Afghan medicine market at roughly USD 658 million a year, Ghani reached out to “five of the best Indian pharmaceutical companies” for proposals to supply medicines, underlining their criticality for Afghan soldiers. He even assured the Indian side that there is no constraint on transport of pharmaceuticals by air.
The Afghan President hoped that India will play a crucial role in skill development in Afghanistan’s carpet industry.
Referring to opportunities Afghanistan presents for the gold and jewellery sector, Ghani said: “We want to make sure the contracts given for gold are given transparently, but the gold sector is up for investment as is the precious stone sector.” Noting that Afghanistan is interested in establishing dry ports with facilities like SEZs, which could connect to countries such as China and Iran, Ghani sought India’s engagement in this regard.
Ghani also proposed collaboration with India in generation of power and water management, seeking support from the Indian power industry in exploration of turbine engine standards.
He also described solar energy as “a crucial area of collaboration” while pitching for a cluster development approach in skill development.
Ghani made a reference to Afghanistan’s enormous mineral wealth and said the news about gas is “beginning to look good”. General (retd) V K Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, said the strategic partnership between India and Afghanistan has been growing steadily and now is the time to boost this relationship by taking trade and investment between the two countries to “the next level”.
He exhorted the private sector to explore new avenues for partnership between the two countries and engage in creating capabilities and capacities, allowing Afghanistan to rebuild its economy and provide job opportunities to its citizens.