Afghan president inaugurates first air corridor with India, bypassing Pakistan
President Ashraf Ghani has inaugurated the first Afghanistan-India air corridor during a ceremony at the Kabul international airport – a direct route that bypasses Pakistan and is meant to improve commerce.
Ghani, who thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the air corridor, said the aim of the route is to create more opportunities and make Afghanistan an exporter country. “India is a big market for Afghan goods,” he said.
The president’s adviser, Sediqullah Mujadedi, said Afghan agricultural products will for the first time head to India on cargo planes. Mujadedi said the first India-bound flight on Monday included 60 tons of medicinal plants and a second flight will carry 40 tons of dry fruits from the southern Kandahar province.
Afghanistan is a mountainous landlocked country and all imports and exports depend on neighbouring countries. Even before relations between Kabul and Islamabad became strained over accusations of harbouring militants, Pakistan has stymied Afghanistan’s efforts to trade with India.
After Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a transit trade agreement in 2010, Islamabad allowed Afghan trucks to carry goods up to the Indian border but barred them from ferrying any Indian goods through Pakistani territory.
The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) said the medicinal plants carried on the first flight were valued at $11 million. ACCI officials said the cost of transporting a kilogram of vegetables and fresh fruit from Kabul and Kandahar to Indian markets will be about 20 cents per kg, and the cost of a kilogram of goods from India to Afghanistan will be about 40 cents.
“Air cargo will help us increase our exports. (On Monday), 60 tons of medicinal plants will leave for India and after this, five flights will go to India from Kabul and Kandahar per week,” said Tawfiq Davari, ACCI’s financial deputy head.
Afghan businessmen and traders welcomed the initiative and said the air corridor will increase trade volumes between Afghanistan and other countries. They also said India is a lucrative market for them, especially for fresh and dried fruits.
The cost of air transit to Delhi and Amritsar is cheap and goods can be transferred from these cities to countries around the world, traders were quoted as saying by Tolo News.
“We have (made) the necessary preparations. We have built a cold room and a small packaging factory to pack the fruit properly. Also there are refrigerated vehicles,” said Nejabat Haidari, head of Fresh Fruits Union.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan embassy in Kabul said in a statement on Monday that Pakistan too intends to open a transit route for Afghan exports.
A number of economic analysts said with the “continued border closures between Pakistan and Afghanistan, traders cannot count on Pakistan’s move”, Tolo News reported.