| AMRITSAR, India
AMRITSAR, India Dec 3 India and Afghanistan are
likely to announce an air cargo service on Saturday to help
increase trade that both say is stymied because of their tense
political relations with Pakistan that lies between them.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister
Narendra Modi were meeting in the northern Indian city of
Amritsar, a short distance from the Pakistan border, for the
Heart of Asia conference aimed at stabilising Afghanistan.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have gone to war three
times and remain bitter foes while ties between Pakistan and
Afghanistan have become strained despite their shared religious
and cultural identities.
Officials say the focus of the air cargo service is to
improve landlocked Afghanistan's connectivity to key markets
abroad and boost the growth prospects of its fruit and carpet
industries while it battles a deadly Taliban insurgency.
Afghanistan depends on the Pakistani port of Karachi for its
foreign trade. It is allowed to send a limited amount of goods
overland through Pakistan into India, but imports from India are
not allowed along this route.
Afghan director general for macro fiscal policies Khalid
Payenda said the potential for trade with India, the largest
market in the region, was far greater than allowed by land and
so the two countries had decided to use the air route.
"That would be air cargo between Afghanistan and India. We
have a lot of potential for trade on both sides. On our side,
it's mostly fruit and dried fruit and potentially through India
to other places for products like carpets and others."
He said that a joint venture involving an Afghan and an
Indian cargo firm would be set up and that the two governments
were working to set up infrastructure at Kabul and Delhi
An Indian government source attending the meeting in
Amritsar said air cargo route details were still being worked
out and could include Kandahar as a point of origin for shipping
fruit directly to India.
Indian foreign ministry official Gopal Baglay, who oversees
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, said several proposals were
being discussed to improve Afghanistan's trade and transport
"There have been very many ideas on how to enhance
connectivity, overcome current challenges and also expand the
trade basket," he said.
Pakistan's top foreign policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz, will be
attending the conference on Sunday.
Ties with India have deteriorated further in recent months
after a series of attacks on Indian military bases in the
disputed region of Kashmir, which New Delhi says have either
been carried out by militants sneaking in from Pakistan or
orchestrated by groups based there.
Pakistan denies stoking violence in Kashmir and says India
must open talks on the future of the revolt-torn Muslim majority
Indian officials said no talks with Pakistan were scheduled
on the sidelines of the Amritsar conference.
Afghanistan's ties with Pakistan have also become strained
after a series of violent attacks, several of them in the
capital Kabul, that it said showed Pakistan had failed to rein
in the militant groups operating from its soil.
"Unless we take a collective measure to fight terrorism, to
fight the breeding ground for terrorism, the safe sanctuary, we
will not be able to bring peace and stability either to
Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the region, including India,"
said Afghan ambassador to India Shaida M. Abdali.
Pakistan says it is itself a victim of terrorism and says
India is using its close ties with Afghanistan to stir trouble
in its restive Baluchistan province.
(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in KABUL; Editing by