Despite the ongoing turbulence in the security sector, Afghanistan has made major strides in the economic cooperation sphere during 1396, including agreements sealed with regional countries.
In this time, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia signed the Lapis Lazuli agreement with Afghanistan - sealing a major international trade and transport corridor deal that will connect Afghanistan directly to Europe.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor will begin in Afghanistan’s northern Aqina port in Faryab province and Torghandi in western Herat province and will run through to Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan.
The Lapis Lazuli agreement was signed on the sidelines of the RECCA VII Summit in Kabul.
In the same year, Afghanistan hosted the 3rd Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) in Kabul which was attended by representatives from 40 countries and donors groups.
SOM delegates discussed mutual commitments made by the international community and Afghanistan at last year’s Brussels Summit.
At the Brussels Summit held on Afghanistan on 5 October 2016, the Afghan government pledged to the international community to carry out reforms including the registration of assets by government officials, the finalization of the procurement law, the undertaking of systematic reforms in the election law, fighting corruption, reforms within legal and judicial institutions and ensuring the security of investors and investments.
The conference brought together 75 countries and 26 international organizations and agencies. At the summit, the international community endorsed the reforms agenda presented by the Afghan government. They undertook to ensure continued international political and financial support for Afghanistan over the next four years. The total sum committed by the international community was $15.2 billion USD.
In 1396, after years of waiting, work finally started on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline project following a ground-breaking ceremony in Herat province in western Afghanistan.
“TAPI project has been a foundation for a major economic corridor in the region and many countries have voiced support for this project,” said Hassan Sorosh, head of the economic cooperation department of ministry of foreign affairs.
“The ministry of finance is responsible to look after 14 agreements we have with the neighboring countries, we have achieved major gains with the help of these projects, this has left positive impacts on Afghanistan’s economic and trade relations with other nations,” finance ministry spokesman Ajmal Hamid Abdul Rahimzai said.
But, the import and export relations between Afghanistan and its neighbors faced some ups and downs during the year.
In 1396, the commercial and economic relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan deteriorated.
“We have achieved some gains this year, but we also had problems in terms of security including a rise in kidnapping of the businessmen and other problems,” said Tawfiq Dawari, deputy head of Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
During this year, Afghan officials held economic talks with Iran and finalized agreements around Chabahar Port.
Chabahar is the closest and easiest access point in Iran to the Indian Ocean and Iran intends to turn it into a transit hub for immediate access to markets in the northern part of the Indian Ocean and Central Asia.
In 1396, President Ashraf Ghani signed a number of bilateral agreements with his Turkmenistan counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov during a one-day official visit to Ashgabat.
The parties also signed the Regulation on Organization of Railroad Transport between Imamnazar and Akina Border Posts.
In addition, an agreement on cooperation between the Ministry of Energy of Turkmenistan and the Ministry of Energy and Water Management of Afghanistan to supply Turkmen energy to Badghis and Jawzjan province was also signed.
During talks, the two presidents focused on regional security and bilateral cooperation. Particular attention was paid to the implementation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project.
During Ghani’s trip, Turkmenistan also expressed willingness to invest in some key regional projects.