Ashraf Ghani’s India visit: Transnational road deal with Kabul likely

india flagNotwithstanding India’s push to use Iran as a corridor to connect Central Asia, Russia and beyond in the backdrop of nuclear detente between Tehran and world powers, Delhi and Kabul could sign a pact next week that will not only allow access to Afghanistan but also to Central Asian nation of Tajikistan which share long standing strategic ties with South Asia’s biggest country.

The pact that could be agreed during Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Delhi on April 27-28 would also send a message to Pakistan that has been obstructing road connectivity among all South Asian countries by refusing to sign SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement at Kathmandu Summit last November.

The proposed Indo-Afghan motor vehicles pact would, however, remain a non-starter in the absence of either SAARC motor vehicles pact or Pakistan allowing India transit rights to Afghanistan through its territory, officials admitted.

However, the pact has huge symbolic value enabling road connectivity between Delhi and Kabul in future and would be extended to Tajikistan that borders Afghanistan, officials averred. India has strong military ties with Tajikistan.

It has built a military hospital at Tajikistan’s Farkhor Air Base, located 60 km from the Afghan border and maintains strategic presence there. Tajikistan occupies a strategically important position in Central Asia, bordering Afghanistan, China, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and separated by a small strip of Afghan territory called the Wakhan Corridor from northern Gilgit-Baltistan (PoK).

The road link could then connect India with rest of Central Asia, Russia and beyond as has been desired by Delhi for several years.

Absence of direct road link between India and Afghanistan as well as Central Asia did not allow India’s partnerships in the region to grow, rued officials. Besides maintaining its presence and interests in Afghanistan, Delhi wants to increase its footprints in Central Asia where China has made huge inroads. The corridor through Iran to connect Afghanistan and Central Asia, Russia and beyond have not been fully utilized by India due to Western sanctions on the Persian Gulf country.

However, Delhi is now hopeful that Iranian corridor could be used following the permanent nuclear deal.

Pakistan and Afghanistan had inked a Transit and Trade Agreement in 2010. But Islamabad insisted on including a provision in it to deny Afghanistan full direct access to the growing Indian and other South Asian markets. This is not allowing realisation of full trade potential between India and Afghanistan.(Economic Times)

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