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India, Afghanistan likely to ink key motor vehicle pact by May to put pressure on Pak

The agreement will help Afghanistan goods vehicle to cross Attari, check-post and come to Delhi, which would boost both bilateral trade with Afghanistan, besides bolstering regional connectivity.

india Updated: May 01, 2017 12:51 IST
Moushumi Das Gupta and Jayanth Jacob
Moushumi Das Gupta and Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India,Afghanistan,motor vehicle pact
Trucks and other vehicles travel in the mountainous area near Torkham, close to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, on March 21.(AFP Photo)

India and Afghanistan are likely to sign a bilateral motor vehicle agreement in May to put pressure on Pakistan, which is blocking New Delhi’s regional connectivity plans.

Government sources said that the pact is likely to be signed during the forthcoming visit of Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani to New Delhi to review the bilateral cooperation within the third week of May.

The agreement will help Afghanistan goods vehicle to cross Attari, check-post and come to Delhi, which would boost both bilateral trade with Afghanistan, besides bolstering regional connectivity.

As far as the bilateral trade is concerned, connectivity has remained a huge stumbling block, resulting in the sluggish pace of bilateral trade. According to the latest available government figures, the bilateral trade was $684 million for 2014-15 ($422 million export and $ 262 million import by India).

“However, the trade relations can realise its true potential if the Wagah-Attari route is opened for bilateral trade. The Pakistan-Afghanistan trade and transit pact was of no help in this regard,” said an official.

He said since with this transit agreement, Afghanistan can better leverage Indian policy of giving greater market access to the least developed countries from the SAARC region. So for the pact to be successful, Pakistan will have to come on board.

In the absence of a bilateral motor vehicle agreement with Pakistan, Indian vehicles cannot enter Pakistan.

Afghanistan has already signed the transit and trade agreement with Pakistan in 2010 that allows both countries to enter each other’s territory. But in absence of a pact with India, Afghanistan vehicles could come up to Wagah, the last check-post on Pakistan side, unload their goods and return.

From Wagah, the goods were again transported to Attari from where they were picked up by Indian transporters. But the larger aim seems to be Afghanistan nudging Pakistan to let Indian vehicles travel to Afghanistan and central Asia.

“The move will give some more leeway to Afghanistan to bargain with Pakistan. Pakistan has wanted to go to Central Asia via Afghanistan but the move has been resisted by Afghanistan. The latter demanded reciprocity vis-a-vis India,” said a Union road transport and highways ministry official.

India had earlier planned to sign the agreement during Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to India in 2015.

Talks to have a bilateral MV agreement between India and Afghanistan started after Pakistan backed out from an ambitious project for South Asian road connectivity in November 2014. The Saarc motor vehicle pact would have allowed free movement of passenger and cargo vehicles within the eight-member Saarc nations: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

India, Iran and Afghanistan have already signed the Trilateral Transport and Transit corridor agreement in May 2016 during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Iran.

Sources said an Indian delegation is also visiting Iran in the second week of May to discuss the protocol for the agreement, which will allow Indian goods to enter Iran through Chhabar port. From there the goods can be transported through road and rail link to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

India has a container terminal at Mundra, which is some 550 nautical miles from Chhabar port. “Its nearest to Chhabar and once the port is ready, container vessels carrying goods can reach Iran in approximately two days,” said a shipping ministry official.

First Published: May 01, 2017 09:19 IST