Early November of 2011, an Afghan delegation led by Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Karim Khalili visited St. Petersburg and as a guest, participated in the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
In St. Petersburg, Karim Khalili held separate talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov and the heads of delegations from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and several other countries.
During the summit, Vladimir Putin urged the SCO member countries to render assistance to Afghanistan which is in trouble. He also expressed Russia’s readiness to assist Kabul to strengthen its borders and promote agriculture.
A member of the Afghan delegation, commercial attaché at the Afghan embassy in Moscow Mohammad Qasim shared his assessment on the outcome of the SCO summit and prospects for Russian-Afghan economic cooperation in an interview with the “Afghanistan.Ru” portal.
Question: What was the place occupied by Afghan issues at the SCO summit in St. Petersburg?
Answer: The Afghan topic, including possible ways of promoting trade and economic cooperation with the involvement of the countries in the region was the central issue at the summit and also during the bilateral discussions in St. Petersburg. The present complicated situation in Afghanistan is a major obstacle in the way towards the implementation of important regional projects and consequently, attention was focused on security, fighting extremism and drug production and trafficking.
Notably, the Vice-President formally called on the SCO member countries to grant Afghanistan observer-country status of this prestigious organization. Russia supported Afghanistan’s bid to join the SCO. It was emphasized that earlier, Afghanistan’s admission to the SCO was discussed with the Chinese officials.
Q – What were the most interesting aspects at the Russian-Afghan talks?
A – I would like to single out several key projects, which have economic and geopolitical significance for the region, out of those topics which were discussed at the meeting. Among these are transport projects, including the development of railroads passing through the Afghan territory. Russia expressed readiness to be involved in the implementation of railway projects. Moreover, energy projects, including CASA-1000 aimed at transmitting electricity to Pakistan from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan through Afghanistan and TAPI, the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, were discussed during the summit and at the bilateral meetings. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Russia was ready to invest $500 million in the CASA-1000 project.
Q – How do you assess the contemporary level of Russian-Afghan economic relations?
A – At present, trade and economic relations between our countries are at the highest level since the ousted of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. An official visit to Russia of President Hamid Karzai in January during which an intergovernmental agreement on trade and economic cooperation was signed, has significantly stimulated of our contacts.
I would like to point to the consistent growth in bilateral trade in the past two years. In the first quarter of the year, bilateral trade grew by 40 percent. According to our estimations, bilateral trade reached up to $510 million in 2010. We forecast that this will be closer to one billion U.S. dollars this year.
Q – What Russia and Afghanistan can offer each other?
A – Basically, Russia supplies oil products, wheat, building materials, automobile and aviation spare parts and other products. Significantly, this year Russia has become a key supplier of oil products to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Afghanistan supplies dried fruits and carpets to Russia.
Notably, under the agreements signed during the visit to Moscow of Hamid Karzai, an intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation has started functioning. The commission is headed by Finance Minister Omar Zakhiwal from the Afghan side and Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko from the Russian side. It has already produced positive results. In August, a memorandum on cooperation in the fuel and energy complex was signed. In November, under agreements concluded between oil and gas department of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Russia’s state-run Gazprom-Neft Company, a contract was signed to supply 10,000 tons of oil products to Afghanistan.
The supply of Russian oil products ahead of the winter is very important for Afghanistan. This not only reduces Afghanistan’s energy dependence on other countries but also gives the Afghan government an opportunity to establish price control on the country’s fuel and lubricant market by market-oriented methods. Consequently, we are highly interested in increasing the supply of Russian oil products. At present, we are holding talks with Russian counterparts on the possible increase of energy supplies to the state sector of Afghanistan.
Q - Are the obstacles posed by the problem of organizing regional transport hamper seriously Afghanistan’s economic development?
A – There is a real problem of cargo transport through the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. This is linked not only to the growing cargo transport. Undoubtedly, the problem jeopardizes development of Afghanistan’s trade and economic relations with other countries, especially with Russia. Consequently, we hope Russia will help Afghanistan to solve the issue.
Q – Do you hope to receive some more from Russia?
A – During 50s-80s, over 140 facilities, including large-scale infrastructures were built in Afghanistan with the assistance of the Soviet Union. Later, many of them were destroyed and should be reconstructed. During the first meeting of the intergovernmental commission, Zakhiwal and Shmatko singled out several projects which should be given priority in reconstruction. Among these are integrated house-building factory in Kabul, Salang highway, grain elevator in Kabul, cement factory in Kabal-Saraj, fertilizer plant in Mazar-i-Sharif, irrigation canal in Nangarhar and hydropower station Surubi-2.
Reconstruction work is going on under several other projects, including the reconstruction of the trolleybus park in Kabul.
A group of Russian geologists will visit Afghanistan later this year as one of the Russian research institutes have expressed desire to be involved in an oil exploration tender.
The two countries are working to implement humanitarian projects together. This concerns the possibility of the implementations of a project to set up the Russian-made mobile hospitals in Afghan cities.
Q – Large-scale projects demand large sums of money. Are the SCO member countries ready to finance social-economic projects in Afghanistan?
A – I hope they are ready. Moreover, most importantly, the SCO summit in St. Petersburg declared the creation of a SCO bank which will finance concrete infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.