Afghanistan has been an epicenter of commerce and trade throughout its history. Situated at the heart of Asia, with its cities forming key silk route passages, Afghanistan could be a potential catalyst for immense regional trade activities. And, bit by bit, Afghanistan is transforming from an aid-dependent nation to a trade powerhouse. The advent of various projects like Chabahar, air freight corridors, Lapis Lazuli--among many others--have rendered the country no longer landlocked but “land-bridged.” Afghanistan will invariably prove to be a vital hub – a “roundabout”—providing access to Central Asia for South Asia and the Middle East. This headway, despite numerous challenges, came to pass as a result of our strengthening ties with various international partners.
The Passage to Prosperity Trade Show, funded by USAID, is a recent indicator of our surging trade growth. 2018 saw the signing of over $27 million in contracts for agricultural products and over $214 million worth of Memorandums of Understanding between Afghan vendors and Indian buyers.
The 2019 Passage to Prosperity held in Delhi was yet another success as it provided the Afghan traders with the unique opportunity to find markets for their products in India, which is considered a prime market for Afghanistan. Also, at the recent India International Trade Fair in November in New Delhi, tremendous sales by Afghan traders were observed, in which businesses belonging to 21 different sectors--including carpets, gemstones, fresh fruits, dry fruits, traditional outfits, et cetera--showcased their products to a global clientele, which had a huge attendance for 14 days.
However, the enduring security challenges at times derail this progress, despite the brave Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) who have been fighting tenaciously at the frontline to ensure security and a favorable professional environment so that businesses and industries can grow, consolidate, and be amplified.
Boosting trade in conjunction with proactive political reforms will be a silver lining at this juncture. Afghanistan’s top export destinations are India, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States. India is also the biggest trade partner, and the snowballing and ever-cementing bilateral relations between both countries augur well for the potential business opportunities for Afghan traders, joint ventures, and investment attraction. For Afghan businesses, India is a lucrative market and a great source of investment attraction. India is considered by Afghanistan to be an “all-weather” friend for its steadfast assistance, committed support, and unwavering guidance and training for Afghan diplomats, police, and military. Besides, constant exposure of Afghan businesses to cutting-edge technology through various sessions and exhibitions in India that are instructional in nature will reap benefits for the local economy in the near future. In reciprocation, Afghanistan is providing India with medical tourism, and also thousands of Afghan students are studying in--and graduating from—Indian schools. Additionally, being one of India’s most trusted allies, Afghanistan can provide a geo-strategic location with access to the Central Asian region that India could capitalize on to boost its trade by penetrating deeper in the region.
This epitomizes Afghanistan’s strength and will: undergoing a sea change from an aid-recipient country to an invaluable trade partner. If the region comes forward in unison in supporting Afghanistan by combating terrorism, then as H.E. President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said, Afghanistan could become “the Asian roundabout, where goods, ideas and people will flow in all directions.”
Tahir Qadiry is Chargé d'Affaires of Afghanistan’s Embassy in New Delhi. He tweets at @tahirqadiry.