Afghanistan at peace seeks Indian investment and business

Ranjana Narayan

New Delhi, Dec 8 (IANS) Afghanistan is largely at peace, except for some "localised violence", and is welcoming investors with cheap electricity, land and tax incentives during its transition period. It is also keen that Indian business persons grab the opportunity, an Afghan minister says and assures a safe environment for doing business.

Afghan Agriculture Minister Asif Rahimi also dismissed talk of a security vacuum in his country after the international forces draw down next year.

"Extensive measures have been taken for security. There will not be any vacuum because the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police with 350,000 strength will fill the gap of international armies leaving Afghanistan. It already is happening; 80 percent of Afghan soil is now being secured by our own armies and police. The other 20 percent will happen by the end of 2014," Rahimi told IANS in an interview during a visit to Delhi.

The Afghanistan cabinet minister said his country is keen that business people take advantage of the incentives put in place for those investing ahead of the transition.

"Next year will be a transition year and the government of Afghanistan has put in place an incentives package for investors, like electricity at cheap prices, land in a very easy way, tax incentives, customs charges incentives - to make investment to Afghanistan easier. The incentive package is up to 2015. So, we encourage Indian investors to actually take up the opportunity," he said.

To concerns about attacks by Taliban on Indians in Afghanistan, Rahimi says such incidents have been limited and the investments the government is encouraging are in the "safe areas of the country".

"There has been attack on Afghan targets... but majority of Afghan soil is at peace, and the peace has been strengthened, consolidated. There is localised violence in certain areas, and we have to be cautious and make sure that we take measures when we go to those areas," he said.

"Yes, there have been attacks on Germans, on Americans, on Afghans as well as on Indians, but these attacks have been limited... We hope the security situation will further improve. The investments that we encourage will happen in the safe areas of the country."

"Large swathes of the country in the east, the west, the central are definitely places where investments and industries can flourish," said Rahimi.

"I encourage our Indian colleagues not to worry, and not become concerned about the security situation, the economic situation in the country, and take the opportunity of the incentive packages that the government of Afghanistan has announced," said the minister.

"India is close ally and close neighbour and we have a long-standing friendship...I think Indians are well situated to come to Afghanistan in terms of trade and investment and vice versa, and the future is very bright for the two nations."

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai arrives in India next week, during the visit will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders. Karzai is described as a "trusted friend of India". India is involved in large scale development works in Afghanistan, including building parliament, dams, roads and highways, hospitals and schools.

Afghanistan is headed for crucial transition next year with the international forces scheduled to draw down and the presidential elections that will see Karzai step down after more than a decade at the helm.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at ranjana.n@ians.in)

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