NEW DEHLI: India hosted a special summit Thursday, seeking to persuade private Indian and foreign investors to take a leap of faith in Afghanistan and help stabilise the country as NATO prepares to withdraw.
"Afghanistan may not be the easiest destination to sell to an investor," admitted Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna in an address to the summit, attended by companies from 40 countries, including Russia, Pakistan and Iran.
Despite security concerns, Krishna argued there would be safety in numbers if enough investors committed to the country, and cited Afghanistan's mineral, agricultural and human resources as genuine investment material.
"We need to offer a narrative of opportunity to counter the anxiety of withdrawal, uncertainty, instability and foreign interference," Krishna said.
"Let the grey suits of company executives take the place of olive green or desert brown fatigues of soldiers; and CEOs the place of generals," he added.
With NATO combat troops due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, there are fears of a consequent meltdown in the corruption-plagued economy.
Cash that is desperately needed is already making its own way out.
According to the Afghan Finance Ministry, $4.6 billion left through Kabul airport in 2011, almost double the amount in the previous year.
India, strongly encouraged by the United States, is keen to expand its economic influence in Afghanistan, but New Delhi is acutely aware of rival Pakistan's sensitivities about Indian "encroachment".
In October, India and Afghanistan signed a "strategic partnership" deal aiming at deepening their security and economic links, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai also keen to elevate India's involvement.
New Delhi has ploughed about $2.0 billion of aid into the country, but is wary of over-stepping.
In 2011, a consortium of Indian companies won the rights to develop Afghanistan's largest iron ore deposits.
Afghanistan is believed to have mineral reserves worth as much as $3 trillion which could theoretically generate billions of dollars in tax revenue.
"We want to rely more and more on our own resources and less on donor resources. Create jobs and a viable economic environment," Afghan Commerce Minister Anwarul Haq Ahady told the summit in New Delhi.
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