India is likely to finalise an air cargo service pact with Afghanistan to boost bilateral trade and gain leverage in the war-ravaged country as Pakistan continues to deny transit link for Indo-Afghan trade through its territory. The issue will be discussed during bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of the two-day Heart of Asia conference which began here on Saturday.
There is a possibility that the pact will be finalised by Sunday itself. At the meeting, Afghanistan is likely to seek enhanced supply of military hardware from India and more help for strengthening its armed forces. Afghanistan has been trying to revamp its military to fight the resurgent Taliban after drawdown of NATO forces began nearly two years back.
Sources said both India and Afghanistan were keen to finalise the air cargo agreement as soon as possible and that the broad contours of the pact are already worked out. India and Afghanistan have been exploring various connectivity projects for greater two-way trade.
In May, India, Iran and Afghanistan had signed an agreement to set up a trade and transport corridor with Chabahar in Iran as the hub. The sea-land route of Chabahar Port is designed to bypass Pakistan and the project is seen as India’s effort to counter China’s plan to develop Gwadar port in Pakistan.
Afghanistan is very keen on deeper defence and security cooperation with India and there were indications that Ghani may press for ramping up supply of arms and military hardware from India though Pakistan would be unhappy if there was closer Indo-Afghan military cooperation. Last week India had given to Afghanistan the last of the four military helicopters.
India has trained hundreds of Afghan security personnel but has been adopting a cautious approach in providing weapons. Afghanistan has also been seeking India’s assistance in making functional Soviet-era helicopters and transport aircraft which were not in flying condition. India has a strategic partnership with Afghanistan and is implementing projects worth $2 billion to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure. India has been supporting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, broad-based and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation.