India – Afghanistan and air freight

Although President Trump has committed an additional 4000 US troops to Afghanistan, U.S is pushing Afghan government for permitting Indian troops into Afghanistan because it knows that the threat from the Afghan Taliban is much greater than what the US forces can handle.

India has been wooing Afghanistan for decades to use it as a pawn in its game of encircling Pakistan. Since Afghanistan and India do not share a common land border, India has been keen to establish links to send in weapons and other paraphernalia to Afghanistan to further its machinations against Pakistan. There are over ten Indian trade missions and four Consulates in tiny Afghanistan, much more than what India has in the US. Reportedly, the fourteen missions are staffed with Indian spy agency RAW operatives, who train, arm and equip terrorists to wreak havoc in Pakistan as well as foment insurgency to destabilise Pakistan.

India was keen on using the land route to fulfil its odious agenda. Seeing through the RAW stratagem, Pakistan insisted that that all Indian trucks unload their cargo at the Pakistani border check posts and after a thorough security check, reload within Pakistani territory to continue their onward journey. India would never permit the thorough scrutiny.

A shortcut was found by India for continuing its macabre plan against Pakistan. It established an air freight corridor linking both countries.  The agreement to undertake this highly expensive endeavour was reached during the “Heart of Asia Conference” hosted by India at Amritsar last September. The platform had been used by both Narendra Modi and HMV (his master’s voice) Ashraf Ghani to malign Pakistan and hurl threats.

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It is ironical that Pakistani airspace is being used by the air freight corridor linking Afghanistan and India yet hurling abuses at Pakistan does not stop. Ashraf Ghani has blocked Pakistani land route to Central Asian States via Afghanistan. Thanks to the China Pakistan Corridor (CPEC) that Pakistan has gained access to the central Asian States via Kashgar. Afghanistan is an untrustworthy partner. It has also blocked the land route from Pakistan, which is causing a 27% loss to Pakistan.

In order to bypass Pakistan for the land route from Afghanistan to seaports, India is investing heavily in the Iranian port of Chabahar. It signed a 500 million dollar deal to upgrade the port while it has constructed the Delaram-Zaranj Highway, a 218 km roadway in the Nimruz Province of Afghanistan connecting the Delaram District in Afghanistan to the border of Iran. The opposite way goes towards the south near Zaranj, Afghanistan. India aims at roping in the Central Asian States besides Afghanistan to transit their trade via Chabahar rather than Gawadar or via the CPEC. There are two problems with this scheme. Firstly Chabahar is a small shallow water port as opposed to Gawadar, which is a deep sea port. Secondly, India has been wooing Japan to invest in Chabahar Port but US President Trump’s threats of re-imposing sanctions against Iran may cause all bets to be off Chabahar. Ironically, Iran itself is an aspirant to join CPEC.

India and Afghanistan plan to add Amritsar and Mumbai as well as Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif to possible stops in the air freight link. Indian Ministry of External Affairs has announced that the connectivity established through the Air Freight Corridor will provide Afghanistan, a landlocked country, greater access to markets in India, and will allow Afghan businessmen to leverage India’s economic growth and trade networks for its benefit. It would enable Afghan farmers quick and direct access to the Indian markets for their perishable produce. Although Afghan businesses have long wanted to exploit the potential of India’s huge market, trade between the two countries has been hampered due to their tense relations with Pakistan.
In New Delhi, officials hope the new corridor will boost annual trade between the two countries from $700 million to $1 billion in three years and give a lift to exports of Afghanistan’s agricultural and carpet industries.

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The current volume of trade between Afghanistan and India both ways is $700 million annually. It was earlier $300 million something. The target is ultimately $10 billion in the years to come. The air freight corridor however, is rife with problems. A prominent trader in New Delhi, Shyam Sunder Bansal, said he stopped trading with Afghan businesses several years ago due to the challenges such as transit routes, banking and currency facilities. Bansal is sceptical whether it will be commercially viable to sustain imports via air. “They cannot continue it forever because that will be unconventional, uneconomical,” he said.

Trouble has already started. On 31 July 2017, a number of traders from Afghanistan said tons of fresh fruit has gone to waste at the Hamid Karzai international Airport because of the delay in cargo flights to India. The traders said 42 tons of fresh fruit was transported to the airport on 28 July 2017 and was scheduled to have been flown out on 28 July 2017. However this did not happen. Ariana Afghan Airlines, that runs the cargo service to India, said they rent a plane from another company but do not have control over flight schedules.

It might be a pressure tactics by India to further pressurise Afghan government, which are dilly dallying to formally invite Indian forces to contribute in security setup of the country i.e.: like NATO forces. Although President Trump has committed an additional 4000 US troops to Afghanistan, U.S is pushing Afghan government for permitting Indian troops into Afghanistan because it knows that the threat from the Afghan Taliban is much greater than what the US forces can handle. At its peak, US forces in Afghanistan comprised 130,000 troops but they failed to make even a dent in the Taliban’s war making capacity. Afghanistan is still resisting the ingress of Indian troops on its soil because it is cognizant of the fact that the Indians would mobilise their forces to wreak havoc in Pakistan rather than resolve Afghan security issues. Afghanistan is war fatigued and wary of being used as a proxy.

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Under the circumstances, the best option for Afghanistan would be to sit on the negotiations table with the Taliban and resolve its differences with them so that peace can return to Afghanistan. Countries like China are holding back development projects in Afghanistan till the situation is conducive to reconstruction and rebuilding. Projects like the Tajikistan Afghanistan Pakistan India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the CASA 1000 are on hold till the conflict there is resolved and peace prevails.

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