Modi, Ghani to discuss terror, defence

Top agenda:  The Heart of Asia conference will see a fresh focus on India’s plans to develop the Chabahar port in Iran for trade to Afghanistan.  — File Photo

Top agenda: The Heart of Asia conference will see a fresh focus on India’s plans to develop the Chabahar port in Iran for trade to Afghanistan. — File Photo

Terrorism, trade and defence assistance will be on the top of the agenda as Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani here this weekend, which will also see a fresh focus on India’s plans to develop the Chabahar port in Iran for trade to Afghanistan.

Mr. Modi and Mr. Ghani are expected to meet and inaugurate the 14-member Heart of Asia conference on Sunday, which will be attended by ministers from Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China, as Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar chairs a senior officials meet on Saturday.

Sources tell The Hindu that Mr. Modi is likely to build on India’s commitment on military aid to Afghanistan, of which seven helicopters including 3 utility choppers have already been supplied, and work is on on a trilateral framework with Russia on supplying spares and conducting repairs on other aircraft in Afghanistan.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is stepping in for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, will address a joint press conference with Afghanistan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai on Sunday, an MEA release said.

India and Afghanistan, the co-chairs of this year’s conference, will also seek to corner Pakistan on their common problem of cross-border terrorism during the ministerial conference on Sunday, which Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz will attend. Condemning the Nagrota attack in which 7 Army men were killed in Jammu and Kashmir this week, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Shaida Abdali said, “We are affected as well as India is affected by cross-border terrorism in the same way and therefore we are emphasising more on the question of terrorism in the upcoming Heart of Asia conference to discuss how we can find solution to the problem, which affects us but at the same time affects the people of Pakistan as well.”

Focus on trade routes

But even as India and Afghanistan seek to corner Pakistan on terrorism in the text of the Amritsar declaration, officials say a major focus for the conference will be developing trade routes to Afghanistan, with major competition brewing between India’s plans for the Chabahar port in Iran and China and Pakistan’s development of the Gwadar Port. In May this year, Mr. Modi travelled to Tehran to witness the signing of a commercial contract for the Chabahar port, where he was joined by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Afghan President Ghani. According to the contract between the Indian consortium of Kandla Port Trust and J.N. Port Trust, and Iran’s Arya Banader, India will construct two terminals (five berths), including a multipurpose cargo terminal and a container terminal. According to the trilateral trade agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan, they will be able to send and receive goods from Afghanistan over the Zaranj Delaram southern highway, also constructed by India, and in time connect the port to the International North South Transport corridor (INSTC) of railway and roadways to Russia, Central Asia and Europe.

‘Reach-out event’

To that end, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javed Zarif is expected to make a presentation on the benefits of Chabahar to Afghanistan, while India now plans a big “reach-out event” to attract more countries to the port project, officials said.

“We are already working with the governments of Afghanistan and Iran to do an event in Chabahar itself, sometime in the near future which involves not merely the governments and experts but also brings together industry and also showcases Chabahar for other countries which can benefit from the enhanced connectivity through Chabahar,” MEA official in charge of the region Gopal Baglay said.

However, diplomats say that work on the Chabahar port has yet to take off, and the trilateral agreement has not been ratified yet. Meanwhile the $46-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor has made considerable progress in the past few months, with the first trade shipment from Kashgar reaching Gwadar port and being sent on to the Gulf countries and Africa in November this year. In the past few months, Russia, Turkmenistan and Qatar have indicated an interest in the port, while Iran, that refers to Gwadar and Chabahar as “sister ports,” is also likely to use the port for trade and running energy lines. China has also inaugurated its Yiwu-Mazar e Sharief rail line, which is one step towards linking the One Belt One Road (OBOR) plan through Afghanistan to the CPEC route to Gwadar.

Transit trade denial

As a result, say officials, at the Heart of Asia conference which will bring together all of the countries in the region, India will discuss the possibility of boosting Chabahar port’s prominence in helping Afghanistan, even as it raises concerns over the denial of transit trade for Indian goods wishing to take the land route to Pakistan.

When asked, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India brushed off concerns over a “Great Game” on ports between India and Pakistan, saying “more trade ultimately benefits the whole region.” “I hope that we [India and Pakistan] have the relationship that will allow transit trade to Afghanistan in the future, but we aren’t there at present,” he told The Hindu ahead of the Amritsar conference.

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2022 9:56:18 pm |