NEW DELHI: An aircraft packed with 60 tons of asafoetida, or hing, marked the opening of the first air cargo corridor between Afghanistan and India today. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has received the plane, leased by Afghan carrier Ariana
The cargo, worth about $6 million dollars, was the first in what officials from the two countries hope will be many flights allowing Afghan and Indian companies to bypass Pakistan, which strictly limits the shipment of goods by land between India and Afghanistan often as part of border disputes.
Afghanistan depends on the Pakistani port of Karachi for its foreign trade. It is allowed to send a limited amount of goods overland through Pakistan into India, but imports from India are not allowed along this route.
The new air corridor aims to boost trade between India and Afghanistan from $800 million to $1 billion in three years and $10 billion in five years. While it bypasses Pakistan, necessary overflight permissions have been taken, though that allows the possibility of Islamabad acting as spoiler if it wants.
Next week, a second flight to India is scheduled to depart from the southern city of Kandahar, carrying 40 tons of dried fruit.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani first proposed the air corridor in September last year in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi; details were worked out when both attended a regional summit in Amritsar in December.
The first flight in this corridor from Delhi to Kabul yesterday exported 100 tons of Indian goods. There will be several flights every week from Kabul and Kandahar to India, depending on seasonal demand.
The cargo service aims to improve landlocked Afghanistan’s links to markets abroad and boost the growth prospects of its agricultural and carpet industries while it battles a deadly Taliban insurgency, Indian officials have said.
“We will continue to assist you in various ways as this corridor expands and grows into a network of cargo flights as per demand of the market,” India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Manpreet Vohra, told President Ghani.