x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Karzai urges investors to consider Afghanistan

Security still a concern as India considers increasing investment in its neighbour.

Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai (centre) talks with Indian president Pranab Mukherjee (right) and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh during a reception in New Delhi yesterday.
Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai (centre) talks with Indian president Pranab Mukherjee (right) and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh during a reception in New Delhi yesterday.

NEW DELHI // The Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, has been in India for the past four days, wooing investors in Mumbai and New Delhi and signing economic agreements with the country's prime minister.

"We'd like to welcome you with a red carpet," Mr Karzai told business leaders in Mumbai on Sunday. "But if you don't arrive on the red carpet, it will get dusty. Therefore, do hurry up in coming and take advantage of the opportunities in Afghanistan."

Yesterday, Mr Karzai and Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, signed agreements on youth affairs, mining, fertilisers and small development projects. Last week, the Indian cabinet approved an additional US$100 million (Dh367m) for projects.

His visit has been viewed as an attempt to shore up security in the faction-ridden region before the planned departure of most Nato troops in 2014.

Since 2001, India has committed $2 billion on Afghan infrastructure, including building motorways and hospitals and setting up rural electricity projects. New Delhi is hoping to gain some influence in the country post-2014, when Afghan forces become responsible for the entire country's security.

"India has been a generous frontline partner in Afghanistan's rebuilding and reconstruction efforts," Mr Karzai said. Mr Singh said his talks with Mr Karzai had covered bilateral relations and regional security. "I reiterated to president Karzai our belief that Afghanistan's regional economic integration will contribute to the overall prosperity and stability in the region," Mr Singh said. But R Venkatrangappan, a member of the commerce and industry chamber run by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, said he does not yet see much readiness among Indian industries to invest, or work, in Afghanistan.

"I would say there's still a lot of apprehension on the security front," Mr Venkatrangappan said yesterday. "Really, if there's any interest at all, it has begun on this trip, when Karzai has come to meet the commerce minister and the prime minister. But I don't think Indian industries have started to examine Afghanistan seriously at all."

On Saturday, Mr Karzai said business should not be deterred by attacks such as the ones on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 in which 75 people were killed.

"We cannot surrender to attacks on us or to attacks on our relationship. It will be terrible for us and our future if [we] did. Therefore, in spite of all that - security or the lack of security - we must think long term."

Mr Karzai also emphasised Afghanistan's need for India's help in securing the region and battling terrorism.

Before Mr Karzai's visit, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan's ambassador to India, said that there were "still pockets of insurgent groups and sanctuaries of terror".

"India has committed itself to strengthening the security of Afghanistan," Mr Abdali said.

Sushant Singh, a fellow for defence policy at the Takshashila Institution, a Chennai-based think tank, said India has been training individual Afghan soldiers and officers for three or four years.

India and Afghanistan are careful that their joint efforts are not viewed as a threat by Pakistan, which lies sandwiched between the two. The governments of India and Afghanistan have shown a mutual distrust of Pakistan, making them likely allies.


* With additional reports from Associated Press