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An aircraft laden with 60 tons of Afghan plants with medicinal uses kick started the first air cargo corridor between Afghanistan and India on Monday.

The cargo, worth $6 million was the first of what officials believe will be many flights, strengthening trading ties between the two countries. This will allow Indian and Afghan companies to bypass the Pakistani land route. With vitiated ties with both India and Afghanistan, Pakistan imposes restrictions on land-based trade.

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.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani first proposed the air corridor in September last year in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi; details of which were worked out when both attended a regional summit in Amritsar in December.

Afghanistan: Striving to become an exported country

Besides trading ties both countries healthy military ties. The Indian military has trained and supplied the Afghan military. Afghan cadets go for attachments in the Indian Military Academy. Afghanistan has been demanding increased defense supplies, including lethal weapons from India, which for the first time gave the country four Mi-25 attack helicopters last year. Both countries are all set to scale up military relations in the days to come.

On the occasion, President Ghani expressed his hope that Afghanistan can become an exporter country one day. “Our aim is to change Afghanistan to an exporter country. As long as we are not an exporter country, then poverty and instability will not be eliminated,” he said during a ceremony organized to mark the inaugural flight.

The cargo service aims to improve landlocked Afghanistan’s linkages to markets abroad and boost the growth prospects of its agricultural and carpet industries which have been affected by 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 the demand of the market,” India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Manpreet Vohra, told President Ghani.

Besides trading ties both countries healthy military ties. The Indian military has trained and supplied the Afghan military. Afghan cadets go for attachments in the Indian Military Academy. Afghanistan has been demanding increased defense supplies, including lethal weapons from India, which for the first time gave the country four Mi-25 attack helicopters last year. Both countries are all set to scale up military relations in the days to come.

Last year both countries again vowed to cooperate on terrorism. ““Both leaders reaffirmed their resolve to counterterrorism and strengthen security and defense cooperation as envisaged in the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, “said  Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar referring to President Ghani and Prime Minister Modi.

Read more: Naval sailors attacked in Baluchistan: another attempt to slow down CPEC?

Pakistani Concerns

Reports are abuzz that India is mulling on sending 15,000 troops to Afghanistan . Though, it is highly unlikely that India will send troops in Afghanistan but it will definitely have an increased role in Afghanistan , much to the chagrin of Islamabad.

The air corridor is expected to propel Indo-Afghan trade from its current volume of  $800 million to $1 billion in three years. While this in itself is legal and innocuous, but Pakistani concerns stem from the fact that India exerts its influence on Afghanistan. Pakistan believes that India uses Afghan elements to destabilize the country, something has been corroborated by confessions of Kulbushan Jadhav and Ehsanullah Ehsan. It is widely believed that Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies in NDS and R&AW foment trouble inside Pakistan by using Afghan territory.

Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan is based upon its fear of encirclement by India. It feels that given the perennially hot eastern front it can ill-afford to have Kabul pandering to Indian interests.

Often Pakistani concerns are brushed aside but are still talked about in policy circles. Last month US top intelligence chiefs admitted that Pakistan was apprehensive of India. Director National Intelligence, Daniel R Coats described  Pakistan’s strategic thought and worldview in a congressional hearing. “Pakistan is concerned about international isolation and sees its position through the prism of India’s rising international status, including India’s expanded foreign outreach and deepening ties to the United States,” he said.

Read more: Will US acknowledgment of Pakistan’s concerns over Indian influence in Afghanistan change anything?

He was supported on this assertion by the chief of the Defense Intelligence  Agency, Lt General Stewart. While talking about Pakistan’s India bogey he said “Pakistan views Afghanistan — or desires for Afghanistan some of the same things we want: a safe, secure, stable Afghanistan. One addition — one that does not have heavy Indian influence in Afghanis­tan.”

The “blame Pakistan” approach is commonly used by the governments in Kabul and Delhi. Both ascribe the Kashmiri resistance movement and worsening security in Afghanistan to Pakistan. There are fears that as the US steps up its pressure on Pakistan as part of its new policy for Afghanistan, India could be given a role in Afghanistan. Reports are abuzz that India is mulling on sending 15,000 troops to Afghanistan. Though, it is highly unlikely that India will send troops in Afghanistan but it will definitely have an increased role in Afghanistan, much to the chagrin of Islamabad.

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