x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

UAE takes action to help promote Afghan investment

Conference in Dubai sees international group created to advise Afghan government on laws and policies that can attract investors, create jobs and help stabilise the war-torn country

DUBAI // An international group was created yesterday to advise the Afghan government on laws and policies that can attract investors in a bid to shore up job creation and help stabilise the war-torn country.

The Afghanistan International Investment Friends, announced at a conference in Dubai yesterday evening, would help the government enact legislation to encourage and protect private investments, economic growth and employment, said delegates.

Although the parameters of the group were still unclear last night, it is understood that the private sector and interested foreign governments will be involved. The UAE will separately advise relevant Afghan ministries on implementing the conference's recommendations, including on the group's formation and development.

Representatives of the Afghan government pledged their "unreserved support" for the initiative and called for countries taking part in the group to support investors who wanted to open businesses in Afghanistan.

Zalmai Rassoul, the Afghan foreign minister, pledged that the government would enact new measures to ease bureaucracy procedures that had hampered investment, increase access to financial credit, fight corruption and improve the rule of law.

The first Afghanistan International Investment Conference was attended by more than 700 delegates, including Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, with foreign officials including the Australian minister for foreign affairs, and former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, as well as local and international diplomats and businessmen.

Dr Rassoul estimated that in the next three to four years US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn) would be used for foreign investments and government spending on infrastructure.

Afghan officials focused the delegates on projects in mining, telecommunications and transport, with large railway systems being constructed in the country that they hoped would attract foreign partners and create jobs for Afghans.

Dr Rassoul urged investors to take advantage of mineral concessions, farm the country's vast tracts of fertile land and participate in railway and road construction.

The country is about to complete a railway to Iran and is studying the feasibility of another line to Pakistan.

The Dubai conference was intended to highlight key sectors that need foreign investment and showcase efforts by the Afghan government to make setting up businesses easier. Delegates hoped the presentations would attract significantly higher investment by 2012.

Experts said during the conference that greater economic opportunities would help in the fight against extremism in the country.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, said: "Modernisation goes hand in hand with moderation. So if we can help Afghanistan to modernise its infrastructure, its society, we will curtail extremism, which emanates from hardship and poverty."

Abdul Farid Zikria, a former ambassador of Afghanistan to the UAE, said: "People are poor and they don't have the means to survive, and the only means to survive with their families is to go with these terrorists and get some money."

Dr Rassoul said security concerns were limited to small parts of the country, but acknowledged that security and corruption remained pressing challenges. The country's largest bank, Kabul Bank, nearly collapsed earlier this year, and its officials face accusations of mismanagement.

The security situation remains high on the list of concerns for foreign investors. A UN report in June said roadside bombings in the first four months of this year rose by 94 per cent over the same period last year, and assassinations of Afghan officials jumped 45 per cent, mostly in the ethnic Pashtun south.

Special forces had been assigned to some projects and the Afghan National Army and Police was capable of securing projects and investments, Dr Rassoul said.

He said the Nato plan to hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces by 2014 showed faith in the capability of Afghanistan to secure the country. Companies that invest in Afghanistan, in addition to making a profit, would "play a vital role in the restoration of peace and security within the region".

He pledged the Afghan government's "strong commitment to ensure the safety and security of all companies and financial institutions who decide to invest in Afghanistan and take part in the reconstruction of our country".