For the first time perhaps, India will host an international conference on investment opportunities in a third country, in this case Afghanistan.

Representatives from over 40 countries, some of them from diplomatic missions here, along with five Afghan ministers, will be present at the one-day meet on Thursday. Over 100 corporates from different parts of the world as well as Indian companies, some of whom have been selected for a giant iron ore mining tender, will also participate, according to Confederation of Indian Industry officials, who are partnering the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for the endeavour.

From India, the meeting will be attended by External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna and Commerce and Industries Minister Anand Sharma along with senior officials.

Oil and gas, agro-based businesses, mining, infrastructure development and health have been identified as priority areas for discussion and government sources are hoping for the meet to develop some sort of a framework to spur economic activity in Afghanistan.

With companies from Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran and the Gulf confirming their participation, officials hoped the panellists and participants would be able to move towards replacing the current narrative of fear, violence and strife by the narrative of economic opportunities.

“If companies move collectively, there will be security in numbers as well as a vested interest in development, be it railways, roads and hydel projects besides hydrocarbon exploration and mining,’’ said government sources.

The conference draws its inspiration from the Euromines conference held in Brussels last year and an investment meet in Dubai in 2010. “We could look forward to sector-specific or may be omnibus conferences in future. It will depend on how this summit goes,’’ said the sources.

This meet will feed into the conference on international economic commitment for Afghanistan to be held in Tokyo next month.

“A number of confidence-building measures (CBMs) were identified at the previous Istanbul conference. India has taken the lead on commercial CBMs. This investment conference should be seen in that context,’’ official sources said.

However, the CII and MEA officials admitted the constraint of little lead time to prepare for the meet, which was finalised during a meeting of Indian and Afghan Foreign Ministers in May. “We have managed to put together a one-day event, and would want it to lead to cross-cutting corporate partnership across borders for working in key Afghan economic sectors. We also hope some recommendations will emerge that can feed into the Tokyo conference,’’ the sources said.

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