Mumbai: Pakistan had approached Afghanistan earlier this year and indicated its willingness to discuss resumption of trade between Afghanistan and India via Pakistan through the land route, United States ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass told Economic Times in an interview.
The revelation is significant, given that for years Pakistan has not allowed Indian goods to be transported to Afghanistan through its territory.
Bass said the Pakistani government had approached Afghanistan after looking at two developments.
“We have seen an increase in exports from Afghanistan to India (through air cargo)… it is obviously one part of the export strategy but it is an important part… and I think part of the reason why, in addition to the economic relationship between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, a couple of months ago for the first time the Pakistani government expressed a willingness to start talking with its Afghan counterparts for parameters to enabling trade between India and Afghanistan through Pakistan,” he said
The US ambassador to Afghanistan spoke to ET on the sidelines of the India-Afghanistan Trade and Investment show being held in Mumbai. He said that Indian firms had been investing in Afghanistan’s growth and that last year’s trade show in Delhi had led to $27 million of investments at the event itself, and another $200 million of “prospective” investments from Indian companies, much of which had materialised.
Bass said a political settlement in Afghanistan was in “Pakistan’s long-term interest”. “Increased trade in both directions, increased connectivity through central and south Asia through Afghanistan – those are all missed opportunities if Pakistan has its sole focus on perpetuating the status quo,” he said.
The envoy acknowledged that the Indian government had brought up the issue of US sanctions on Iran and how it would impact Chabahar port in Iran when US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Jim Mattis were in India last week. He said that the Indian government in the discussions with the two US officials conveyed India’s perspectives “on the importance of Chabahar as a means to expand bilateral trade and help improve Afghanistan’s connectivity with South Asia”.
Bass further said, “We are processing and evaluating how best to re-impose sanctions on Iran, with the Irani regime’s malevolent behaviour and its activities in destabilising its neighbours. My government is still thinking through how Chabahar factors in the re-imposition of the toughest sanctions that we believe need to be put in place to hold the Iranian government accountable for its action.”
He said that the “matter is still very much under discussion, and consideration and review as per the policy process in Washington”.
Bass said the US did not believe that the conflict in Afghanistan would end with a military victory. “No one in the US government is saying at this point that we expect this conflict to end with a military victory. We believe that this conflict will end with a political settlement,” he said.