Its ongoing civil war notwithstanding, Afghanistan is looking to the east to increase its footprint and diplomatic outreach. Kabul is keen to expand its economic ties with India and Bangladesh. As part of this initiative, it is currently participating in an Indo-Afghan trade Fair in Delhi.
Altogether, 250 Afghan firms are taking part along with nearly 800 Indian companies. The Afghan administration is determined to ensure that economic development, reconstruction, rehabilitation of people and infrastructure creation efforts continue, despite its simmering civil war against the Taliban and other forces. Apart from the US and EU countries, India has also been helping Afghanistan in its efforts to ensure economic progress.
India invested $300 million in helping Afghans build the Salma dam at Heart province some time back, resulting in the daily production of 42 megawatts of power. The bridge was inaugurated on June 4, 2016.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on Thursday, September 28, 2017, where further steps to strengthen existing bilateral ties were discussed. Indian officials indicated that India would help Afghanistan implement projects and arrange for local skill upgradation in agriculture, education, health and power generation sectors.
A major advantage for India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan is that all are on the same page regarding their sharp opposition to Pakistan’s persistent interference and its sponsoring of illegal terrorist attacks in South Asia as a whole. This is recognised as the single most destablising factor in the region by all three countries.
Pakistan has been isolated and pushed to a corner within the South Asia region. India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan last year refused to attend a Saarc meeting scheduled to be held at Islamabad.
Tensions escalated further during the recent UN General Assembly session, when India accused Pakistan of supporting and exporting terror as an adopted policy.
Afghanistan has been pressing for the opening of a consulate in Kolkata, to strengthen its connectivity to the east. Referring to presence of a fair number of Afghan citizens who have been living in West Bengal and recalling the post Tagore’s famous ‘Kabuliwala’ short story, visiting Afghan diplomats have urged India to take urgent steps in this regard.
As for Bangladesh, Kabul had pressed for direct flights between the two countries as early as 2010. Relations between Dhaka and Kabul have traditionally been warm. During the Bangladesh war of liberation in 1971, Afghan authorities had provided safe passage to escaping Bangladeshi officials and nationals who were being targeted by the hostile Pakistani administration.
Later Bangladesh desisted from sending troops without UN sanction to Afghanistan as part of an international effort to help the local government maintain law and order against the Taliban and other terrorist organisations. However, it continued to help the war-ravaged country by sending in trained officials and experts to help speed up rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. As many as 170 NGOs from Bangladesh are currently engaged in local welfare projects in Afghanistan.
While Bangladesh has been exporting pharmaceutical items, jute and ceramic products to Afghanistan, it imports dry fruits and carpets in sizable quantities. Both sides are keen to expand the two-way trade. Over 50 students from Afghanistan are currently studying in universities and colleges in Bangladesh.