Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process is a regional cooperation attributed by 15 participating countries, 19 supporting countries and 12 supporting organizations is mechanized to function under the three core pillars consisting of Political Consultations, Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and Cooperation with Regional Organizations.
Focusing on the recent 9th Regional Technical Group meeting held in New Delhi on 20 September will bring to light one of theaspects of the HoA (IP) which is Trade, Commerce and Industry (TCI) through Confidence Building Measures (CBM) implementation for sustainability and development of Afghanistan which is an important strategic country in the region. On the futuristic perspective Afghanistan’s durability for securing peace and development remained a top priority for the Heart of Asia Region.
Reflecting on Heart of Asia- Istanbul Process
Afghanistan-India TCI (CBM) module is accelerating at a progressive pace under the umbrella of HoA (IP) since its formation in 2011 in Istanbul. Heart of Asia is a policy thrust aimed to achieve regional cooperation for sustainable development by maintaining stability and prosperity covering the region of Caspian Sea and Central Asia, the Middle East and South Asia all connected through Afghanistan – the Heart of Asia. The Heart of Asia-Istanbul process is an appropriate mechanism through which regional countries can work collectively to address the most pressing needs of political, security and economic development with the counter narratives developed under the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs).
The HoA (IP) functions under the framework of sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence. The core focus is given for the reconstruction of Afghanistan through regional engagement. It also envisions continued cooperation among regional countries on projects with potential to transform Afghanistan as transit hub in the Heart of Asia region. It also emphasizes on easing of customs procedures and policies and developing transit trade framework agreements which is important to facilitating trade. More importantly, all the regional countries effortsis imperative in materializing the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and also in organizing Regional Technical Group meetings. There are six wings of the Confidence Building Measures which include Counter terrorism, Counter Narcotics, Disaster Management, Education, Regional Infrastructure and Trade, Commerce and Investment Opportunities.
Happenings and Development in Trade, Commerce and Investment Opportunities (TCI)
India is an active participant of Heart of Asia Process and the lead country for the trade, commerce and Investment Opportunities CBM (TCI- CBM). In the framework of TCI (CBM), it is evident from the development initiatives undertaken for a substantive impact in transforming and unlocking enormous trade and economic connectivity potential in the region. A significant part of TCI (CBM) progress in restructuring Afghanistan is important to be highlighted.
TCI (CBM) is an important element of Afghanistan-India relations for elevating trade, commerce and industry and India is taking lead in the CBM pillar for the development of Afghanistan. For the past 18 years India has been supporting Afghanistan to emerge as a united skilled, stable, inclusive and economically vibrant nation. It is the spirit of India’s Strategic Partnership, neighborliness, respond people to people connect between the two countries. India embarked on various initiatives and development to extend the commitment of 3 billion USD to Afghanistan in assisting for the economic development of Afghanistan.
Some key initiatives undertaken by India for the past few years under the TCI (CBM) for Afghanistan is Chabahar port project, construction of Shahtoot dam, construction of road connecting Band-e-Amir in Bamyan Province to the Bamyan-Yakawlang Highway, Salma dam, Motor Vehicles Agreement, Air Corridor programme, India’s assistance in WTO matters, Afghanistan Pakistan Transit & Trade (APTTA), TUTAP,TAT, Air corridor, Exhibitions –Passage to Prosperity, Made in India, Passage to Prosperity.
Afghanistan is at the crossroads to embrace peaceful economic and political transformation to bring about growth and stability in their country. It is trying to elevate to establish itself to hold a significant position despite the on-going instability. An important task at the current phase of the TCI (CBM) of Heart of Asia Process is to identify the progress happening and also highlighting the impediments accrued in achieving the goals. It is imperative to penetrate at the deeper level of understanding to address different vocabularies be in political, economic, social and other issues for making viable nations in the region. Bringing to light the elements of TCI (CBM) module and projects, we will churn out the positive and the gray areas. Putting Afghanistan at the centre in the HoA (IP) for its strategic location and economic importance connecting with the other regions of the world, CBM is the pillar of strength in the regionto enhance the capacities and pushing for economic development for growth.
Afghanistan-India’s engagement under TCI (CBM) Module
The emerging dimensions of Afghanistan-India relations are consistent and the friendship of the two countries is flourishing through mutual cooperation. Afghanistan has always remained a top priority partner of India. Through TCI (CBM) module India is constantly supporting Afghanistan for its active participation in regional linkages and cooperation mechanisms. TCI (CBM) is a reflection of renewed efforts and determination of India’s goal of Strategic Partnership for a strong prosperous Afghanistan for achieving a status in international arena towards the maintenance of peace, stability and development in the regions of the world. Since the inception of HoP(IP) in 2011, it is important to note the developments happened in TCI (CBM) wing.
In the recent years TCI (CBM) is of greater prominence for development and regional integration. TCI module has attributed for multiple perspectives of development in the field of capacity building training programmes, trade and investment opportunities. Afghanistan is witnessing major improvements under the HoP (IP) in trade, transit and investment; however, it has been observed that few programmeshaven’t been effective.
To begin with Afghanistan-India Air corridor programme accelerated at a very good pace in a span of more than a year and so far more than 145 flights have been exchanged between the two countries giving impetus of Afghan trade in India. The air freight programme has extended to Delhi, Mumbai, Amritsar and Kolkata with Kabul and likely to connect with other cities of India. Kabul- Hyderabad and Kabul- Chennai air corridor operation is in the pipeline.
For promoting greater physical connectivity of Afghanistan with the Heart of Asia region, Chabahar port project has created promising opportunity by providing trade route between Afghanistan and India by sea bypassing Pakistan overcoming transit hurdels on the Wagah border crossing. Phase 1 of the Chabahar port was leased out to India this year and the second phase of its operation is underway. The supply of 1.1 million tons of wheat through Chabahar port is evident of its viability for transit. Construction of a 218 Km road from Zaranj to Delaram for facilitating movements of goods and services to the Iranian border was completed in 2010.
Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan- India (TAPI) project was formally inaugurated on the Afghan section in February this year. It is expected that the pipeline, which will transport 33 billion cubic meters of gas each year to South Asia over three decades will be operational by 2020.
Aimed at creating conducive environment for trade, increase of exports and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Afghanistan became the WTO member in December 2015. Post accession as WTO member Afghanistan has achieved 35 percent progress. Funded by European Union, India is providing training to Afghan official’s capacity building programmesto increase the capacity of its institutions for a strong position in negotiating terms of trade and dispute resolution with the trading partners.
Under the TCI (CBM) India has also undertaken capacity building programmeson Small Medium Enterprises (SME’s), Public Private Partnerships (PPP), capacity building programme for gems and jewelry sector, capacity building programme for health sector, focused programmes on harnessing renewable energy, women enterpreunership and empowerment, skill development, training in mining sector, development of agriculture and food processing sectors, modernization if irrigation facilities and textiles.
To promote trade and facilitate investment opportunities of Afghanistan in India, exhibitions take place every year like the ‘Made in Afghanistan and Passage to Prosperity, to attract potential foreign investment into Afghanistan.
Private sector development is critical for the development of Afghanistan. This would help generate revenues for the government which would in the long run; help Afghanistan to reduce its dependence on international aid and this would give much needed thrust to job creation and income growth. Regional cooperation and regional integration are the important elements to the economic and social future of Afghanistan and its neighbours. Strategic implementation of the Trade, Commerce and Investment opportunities CBM would act as a catalyst in this transformation process and has the potential to serve as a “game changers” and to create a new dynamic for peace and socio economic progress across the region.
(Views expressed in this article are of Neelapu Shanti, Economic Officer, Embassy of Afghanistan, New Delhi.)