Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday held bilateral talks focusing on a range of key issues including boosting trade and investment, India’s reconstruction activities in the war-ravaged country and ways to strengthen defence and security partnership.
The issue of firming up an air cargo service pact between the two countries is understood to have figured in the talks which will give India a leverage in Afghanistan as Pakistan continued to deny transit link through its territory.
Ghani arrived in Amritsar last evening to attend the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process conference which began on Saturday. In the meeting, Modi assured Ghani of India’s continued support for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Also, Afghanistan is learnt to have sought enhanced supply of military hardware from India. Afghanistan has been trying to revamp its military to fight the resurgent Talibans 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 were already finalised.
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 with an aim to develop a transit corridor.
The sea-land route of Chabahar Port was designed to bypass Pakistan and the project was seen as India’s effort to counter China’s plan to develop Gwadar port in Pakistan.
Afghanistan was 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 as it did not want to antagonise Pakistan.
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 USD 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, and advocating the need for a sustained and long-term commitment to Afghanistan by the international community.