“Afghanistan hub of opportunities for IT and banking sector”
Afghanistan has celebrated 100 years of Independence on 19 August 2019. Tell us something about the celebration and how far has the nation come up during this time?
This year’s Independence Day was quite a big deal for the people of Afghanistan. The preparations had started long before the celebrations began. The government ordered all the government institutions to make full preparations for a magnificent 100th anniversary. The whole city of Kabul was illuminated. We put the tri-colour flags of Afghanistan, huge pictures and posters of the former King Amanullah Khan all around the city. this shows the pride and legacy of a nation, especially a country which has suffered from war for almost four decades. Afghans, of course, are very well known for coming together for national causes and on their national days. So, from men to women, from children to students, everyone took part in the celebrations. We organised various programmes, the very unique one was getting students from across Afghanistan to come and sing national songs. This happened for the first
time that students from 34 provinces gathered to take part in a competition. The songs of first 3 finalists were then broadcasted on national television and private TV stations across the country.
The famous DarulAman Palace in Kabul was restored and inaugurated to commemorate 100 years of Afghanistan’s independence. The palace was fully illuminated in different colors and a music concert was also organised. People turned up in large numbers to celebrate their victory, legacy and past achievements of the country. The celebrations also gave a message of hope ,solidarity and unity among us. Irrespective of who you are, which province you belong to, which part of the country you belong to, everyone came together to celebrate this great day.
The bilateral relations between India and Afghanistan have always been strong, and friendly. What do you think is the future course of action for both nations to achieve higher mutual success?
As you rightly put it, both the countries have shared a very strong cultural, social, economic and trade relationships. His Excellency (H.E), President Ashraf Ghani once said, to make friendship with a country, you have to overcome the past. We have got such a beautiful past with India, that it makes future of our relationship even brighter. So, that’s the kind of vision we have towards India.
The relationship between India and Afghanistan has been cherished among the two nations, especially in Afghanistan. We appreciate India’s contribution in Afghanistan. We applaud the programmes designed by the Indian government for Afghanistan as they have been quite efficient and successful.
The House of Parliament, an icon of democracy in the country has been built by India. The Afghan-India Friendship Dam (AIFD), also known as Salma Dam, built as part of an infrastructure project, is another excellent project that India did for Afghanistan.Then there are stadiums, the sports stadiums built by the Indian government. India has always been a prime destination for students from Afghanistan. More than 60,000 Afghan students have graduated from various institutions in India since 2003. At least 16,000 Afghan students are studying in India at the moment. All of this speaks in itself of the relationship between the two countries. India has also been training our security forces and helping with most of our infrastructure projects in the country. The potential on the ground for cooperation in terms of trade is a lot. Just as I speak with you, we have got an air corridor to connect Afghanistan with India through air for the first time. The corridor will facilitate easy availability of Afghan food and fresh fruits in local supermarkets in India. There are 1-2 flights every week that deliver fresh fruit and other products from Afghanistan to India. Each flight brings about 11 to 12 tonnes of
products in fresh fruits.
Talking more on regional connectivity, we are now more connected through Chabahar Port, a milestone in the relations between both
countries. Now the traders on both sides can directly send their stuff to market (across the border) through this port.There is also a surge in trade between the two countries. For example, in 2018, there was a 43 per cent increase in bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan. More than $700 million worth of products were imported from India to Afghanistan and $433 million worth of Afghani products were exported to India, which shows 48 per cent increase in our exports to India. There is still a lot more ground for cooperation, cultural ties and more people to people connect between the two nations. I am confident that the governments of both these countries will be working towards this common goal in their own way.
Cricket is a loved sport in Afghanistan, especially after breaking big in ICC tournaments in addition to some of your players playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL). What impact has the sport had in your country?
Imagine we are talking about a nation that has suffered four decades of war. After the fall of the Taliban, the phenomenon of cricket was
not very well known in Afghanistan. At that point, nobody knew that Afghanistan would be making it to the World Cup one day. And imagine they were playing it on very bumpy grounds: I quite remember it because I was following the Afghan cricket team to South Africa back in year 2008 or 2009. That time, cricket team prospects were not very big. After the fall of Taliban, we needed unifying factors for Afghanistan – Sports and Entertainment were two of them. All of sudden we had a number of sports emerging, starting from Cricket to Football to taekwondo to boxing to cycling and many others. I can just go on naming as the list is really long. But it was Cricket which made it through, as (our) champions (players) were quite successful in achieving what they had set as their goal. Then, of course, there was a huge contribution from India as well. India provided two home grounds – Greater Noida and Dehradun,to Afghan national team where the players could practice. But getting back to the (national) unifying factor, the sports, in general, played a very important role in unifying and bringing the Afghan nation together. So, (now) whenever there is a tournament, irrespective of which part of the country and which ethnicity they belong to, they are all cheering up for the Afghan team. Our under-17 girls football team was in Delhi; they beat the Air Force team and Bangalore’s team in the Subroto Cup. The team that started with very basic training and infrastructure facilities, is now making us proud.
Our cricket team made it to the 2019 World Cup tournament; even though they did not win, what mattered for the Afghan people was their presence at the international platform. Afghan players have been using all the little opportunities they get to make a mark at both national and international level.
We now see a lot of curiosity and interest in our cricket players in India. We are very happy that we are now identified by our sports, and red gold (Saffron). So, these are some of the achievements that we are very proud of.
A large number of Indians are part of the active workforce in Afghanistan. Is your government looking at any programs to attract the Indian diaspora in the country?
As the relationship between the two countries has always been very good, we have got a large number of Indian professionals and experts working in Afghanistan in different sectors, especially in the IT and in Banking. The Afghan government, as part of its regional connectivity and sports exposure initiative, has tried attracting more professionals from India.
What do you have to say about the relationships between the two nations after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into power in India?
Our relationship with India has always been stable regardless of the governments. It is not just the government; the people to people affection has always been there. So, the governments, too, always have had good intentions. Mr Narendra Modi is an excellent Prime Minister and has had one of the closest relationships with Afghanistan. If you look at his speeches, or even at his Twitter account, you will notice he writes to use in our national languages. I think it is very unique for a Prime Minister, perhaps in the world, to write in different languages on his social media account. This shows immense respect he holds for these countries. The (India-Afghanistan) relationship has been stable, but I think there is always a scope for improving it. I think both the leaders — your Prime Minister and our President — are working towards expanding this relationship. There is so much potential here that I am sure that the governments of both countries will be making very good progress in due course of time.
Relations between the people of Afghanistan and India traces back to the Indus Valley Civilization, according to you should the two nations do to benefit from this cultural association?
Our political and diplomatic relationship has been really good, what we should be promoting is the people to people connect. An amazing team of Indian men and women performed in a dance show at Indian embassy in Kabul on Indian Independence Day.. This group also organised a joint fashion show with Afghan fashion designers in Kabul. So, it is this kind of connect that we are so much interested in and see immense scope for. Afghanistan is an intact country; and has a lot of potential for cooperation and exploration. We are also working to promote tourism between the two nations. There are a lot of places and monuments the Indian travelers can explore. There are many Afghans who travel to India, but we do not see so many Indians travelling to Afghanistan. This is something we should work on.
The CD Foundation recent visit to Kabul is a good example that we can do this if we have the intention. As part of your office, what steps have you taken to ensure to promote cultural cooperation between India and Afghanistan?
In India, there is great people to people contact and there are a lot of Indians working in Afghanistan, and that speaks for itself. The embassy here in New Delhi has got a cultural section which is absolutely involved in strengthening cultural ties between the two nations. We have very close relationship with the cultural institutions here in India, trying to co-promote both the Afghan and the Indian culture. We are working on initiatives like launching an Afghan film festival here in India and organizing an Indian film festival week in Kabul. We are also planning to organize fashion shows in collaboration with private companies. There is a lot in common between the two nations when it comes to food and cuisine.
We will be celebrating 71st year anniversary of diplomatic relationship between India and Afghanistan. We have got a foundation called India and Afghanistan Foundation (IAF), which supports cultural activities to promote diversity and close relationship between the two countries. Only two weeks ago, we were in Kabul where an annual meeting of this foundation was held. Several applications that promote cultural relationship between India and Afghanistan were approved and funded. So, these are some of the steps that we are jointly taking.
What are the major investment opportunities for both nations that require immediate attention?
Afghanistan has got a huge potential for foreign investment. It is located in the heart of Asia, and, as our President once said, if everything goes well, it will be the crossroads or the roundabout of Asia. With India, there is so much potential for investment for both the countries, especially in IT (Information Technology). We want India to take this as initiative. Whenever I talk about IT, I think of Bangalore as your high technology city, Silicon Valley (of India). India can help Afghanistan in pioneering and developing high technology projects because of its expertise in it. This is one thing that comes foremost to my mind in developing the industry.
There is a lot of potential in the housing sector as well, but the IT is our number one priority, because of the potential that it holds. I have often wondered why India would not take this initiative and develop a part of our country as a smart city. We can also increase the size of our exports to India, starting with Fresh Fruits, as we have got some of the best fresh fruits in the world.
Any Message for our Envoy Excellency readers?
We have a message of love and solidarity for them. The world is a beautiful place to live in only if we all fulfil our commitments and responsibilities. Afghanistan is a beautiful country with equally hospitable people and that’s the reason, I would advise your readers to travel to Afghanistan and experience the beauty it has to offer.