Published on 16 Jan 2011 at 03:30
Interviewer: Hamidullah Habibi
An interview with Khanjan Alokozai, deputy head of Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry
What is the main reason for the restrictions on Afghan fuel tankers in Iran? What is the official stance of Iran’s Government in this regard?
Unfortunately, Iran’s government has been holding more than 1,900 fuel tankers for over a month. Iran has no logical reason to prevent the fuel from crossing into Afghanistan, because it has been bought from Iraq and Turkmenistan and has legal transit documents. The government of Iran has not yet presented any legal reason for such action.
Iranians argue that foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan benefit from the fuel. Reportedly, Iranians say that they will not allow the fuel tankers to go to their enemy, the U.S. forces.
Recently, the Afghan government sent a high-ranking delegation to Teheran to discuss the issue with Iranian officials. The delegation convinced Iranian officials that the fuel is intended for the people of Afghanistan, not foreign troops. Apparently, Iran’s government agreed to allow the tankers to cross the border, but they have not kept their promise.
Not only did they not allow the tankers to move, they also forced some Afghan merchants to empty their tankers in Iran.
In spite of the warm relations between the Afghan government and the government of Iran, the Iranians did not keep the promise they made to Afghanistan’s First Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim in Tehran. They said they would allow the takers to move, but they did not. Why is this?
There is no logical reason for stopping the tankers; it is just a political issue. Iran wants to challenge the Afghan government as well as its international allies stationed in Afghanistan.
In your opinion, did the contract over the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India through Afghanistan provoke Iran to act in this way?
This could be a reason, since the Iranians wanted the pipeline to cross their own country. On the one hand, Iran claims that it provides economic assistance to Afghanistan, but on the other hand, it creates problems for Afghanistan and tries to limit Afghans when they achieve success. If this is so, then it is not fair and we strongly condemn it. Such actions are strongly against Islamic and humanitarian values.
Can the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) put pressure on Iran? What does the organization’s compact say in such situation?
The ECO is a regional economic cooperation organization providing economic facilities for member countries. Iran, Pakistan and Turkey are the founders of this organization. But it has functioned politically rather than economically, which brings the organization’s mission into question.
For instance, the member countries of the organization, including Iran, agreed on several issues at a summit in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, a month ago, but Iran is violating those agreements now. Iranians are ignoring the transit agreement between Iran and Afghanistan signed four years ago, which was extended last year.
In such a situation, the position of the ECO comes under question and Afghans think that it has merely a symbolic role.
Is it possible for Afghanistan with such a weak economy to force Iran to solve this problem?
Unfortunately, Afghanistan is a landlocked country and faces many problems in various fields. Afghanistan does not produce much and is dependent on neighboring countries. Despite all of this, Afghanistan does have some economic resources.
We have some contracts with Iran: for instance, on the flow of water from Afghanistan to Iran. Based on this contract, Iran should provide transit facilities to Afghanistan.
Whether or not the government of Afghanistan can use its rights to solve this problem, Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry is committed to suspending its investments in Iran and stopping imports from that country if this problem is not solved within one week. Afghan merchants will review their contracts with Iran and stop exports to that country.
The Afghan government can also put diplomatic pressure on Iran to solve this problem, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet adopted any effective measures. The Afghan government can ask the ECO and Islamic countries to take an active part in resolving the issue. As a protest to Iran’s actions, Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry will not participate in ECO’s conference to be held in Iran on January 17, 2011.
The fuel imported from Iran is widely used in the Western parts of the country. Why has the price of fuel risen in the other parts of the country? Is this not a sign that merchants are abusing the free market?
No, no! The merchants cannot hoard fuel. Legally, no one has the right to hoard materials in a free market. The government has control over 60 percent of the fuel imported by private merchants. It means that the government can keep private merchants from hoarding if they try to do so.
In the past, Afghanistan was importing 30 percent of its needed fuel from Iran. Afghan merchants decreased this to 10 – 20 percent in recent months. There were no fuel imports from Iran in past few months.
Afghanistan had bought much of the fuel it needs from Kazakhstan. But for the past nine months, Kazakhstan has been selling its fuel to Russia. The fuel stuck in Iran is bought from the Persian Gulf States and is just transiting Iran.
The Afghan people question Iran’s recent relations with Afghanistan. For instance, the restrictions on fuel tankers and the execution of Afghan refugees. In your opinion, why does Iran continue such actions?
Iran’s government helped the Afghan people a lot in the past, but now they are not acting correctly. People think that Iranians are not honest with Afghanistan and they play political game.
In my opinion, economic problems affect both countries. Afghanistan exports fresh fruit and other products to Iran and imports 30 – 40 percent of its needed products from Iran. Also, Iran transports its products through Afghanistan to Tajikistan.
Such problems have caused Afghan merchants to raise doubt over Afghanistan’s regional and international contracts and agreements. Also the unfair and aggressive behavior of neighboring countries as well as the weak reaction of the Afghan government to such issues, help to prolong these kinds of problems.
Afghanistan’s business has been facing major problems in Iran and Pakistan for the past nine years. If this continues, Afghanistan’s economy will collapse.
Have you developed any plan to solve this problem? How long will people have to wait for the resolution of these difficulties?
We have presented some specific suggestions to the government of Afghanistan. The Afghan government should provide necessary transit facilities inside the country. Afghanistan is a member of the ECO and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and it should refer to them in such critical situations.
The main aim of ECO and SAARC is to facilitate transit for member countries.
The government should review its national and international business and transit contracts, and accelerate diplomatic overtures. It should talk again with Kazakhstan so that Afghan merchants can buy fuel from that country again.
The government should also excavate its own mines. Two Afghan traders were ready to invest in fuel excavation in the North, but due to strict conditions of the government they could not get the contract.
I guarantee to solve this problem as soon as possible if the government really helps in this regard.
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