Foreign Secretary Gokhale in Kabul for trilateral talks

Foreign Secretary Gokhale in Kabul for trilateral talks

Focus will be on Chabahar port project, transit trade, and strategic partnership

Ahead of important trilateral Afghanistan-India-Iran talks over the Chabahar port project on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale held bilateral discussions with Afghanistan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai on Monday, as the two sides convened the Joint Working Group on Political and Security Cooperation.

“Both sides stressed the need to continue working together towards a stable, peaceful and prosperous region that is free from terrorism and extremism,” said a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, adding that Mr. Gokhale, who is on his third visit to Kabul this year, and Mr. Karzai had discussed security and trade issues, progress in development projects, and on pursuing an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” talks process with the Taliban.

Afghanistan has a long-pending request for India to procure at least four attack helicopters from former Soviet countries for the Afghan army. In addition India has a series of outlays for 116 Small Development Projects and others totalling more than $2 billion. Progress on these issues was discussed at the meeting of the India-Afghanistan Joint Working Group on Development Cooperation on August 10, one of the four groups under the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Council that is headed by the foreign Ministers of both countries and tasked with managing the relationship.

The visit is part of a hectic week in regional diplomacy for the Ghani government: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will make his first visit abroad, since being sworn in, to Kabul on September 14, while CEO Abdullah Abdullah and the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass will visit India for a business promotion event on September 12-15.

Foreign Secretary Gokhale in Kabul for trilateral talks

“Our upcoming exhibition will showcase more than 600 representatives from Afghanistan, India and international businesses to bring economic integration in the region with unprecedented growth in trade and business,” Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Shaida Abdali told The Hindu, describing the “Passage to Prosperity” event jointly organised by U.S., India and Afghanistan in Mumbai.

India-Afghanistan trade, currently at about $900 million has received a boost from a special “air corridor” established between Kabul, and Delhi and Mumbai last year. Since then, Afghanistan has launched air cargo corridors with Kazakhstan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, and is in negotiations for a special air corridor with China as well.

However, the highlight of the visit is expected to be the India-Afghanistan-Iran talks on operationalising Phase I of the Shahid Beheshti port in Chabahar that India is developing, in the face of U.S. sanctions that go into effect on November 4. Government sources conceded that the current sanctions plan would affect the port given that suppliers and shipping companies would hesitate to do business with Iran, but said that India is hopeful that Afghanistan will push for a “carve-out” or waiver for Chabahar with the U.S. administration. While there was no announcement during the 2+2 talks last week, American officials have said they will “review” India’s request, but continued to press for New Delhi to “zero out” oil imports from Iran.

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