Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai today told India Inc not to be "shy" when it comes to investing in his mineral-rich country and pointed out to them of the gains reaped by the Chinese who invested early in the war-ravaged country.
"Indian businesses need not be shy when thinking of Afghanistan. Chinese businesses were there long before you came, five or six years ago. And they have now taken two or three major contracts," he said, addressing the captains of the industry here.
Karzai said his administration will do all things possible and accord special treatment to Indian investors.
"We would like to give you a better platform. We would like to welcome you on a red carpet and others on a grey carpet. But you need to arrive on the red carpet. If you don't arrive on the red carpet, it will get dusty. Therefore, do hurry up in coming and take advantage of the opportunities in Afghanistan," Karzai told the industry leaders.
He, however, reminded them that there is strong competition in his country.
"Competition is strong. You have now competition from the West arriving in Afghanistan," said Karzai, who has been the head of government since 2001 following the US intervention and the ouster of the Taliban.
Karzai, on a four-day visit to the country, arrived here yesterday. On the second leg of his visit he will be in New Delhi where he is expected to ink four pacts in the field of mining, youth affairs, small development projects and fertiliser.
The meeting was organized under the aegis of CII, Ficci and Assocham and the participants included Adi Godrej of CII, Ficci's R V Kanoria, Yes Bank managing director Rana Kapur among others.
China has been among the first to invest in Afghanistan and experts appreciate it as a good move given the geo-political importance of Afghanistan as a bridge between South and Central Asia.
Karzai said a lot has changed in Afghanistan over the past decade and also appreciated over USD 2 billion funding by New Delhi in rebuilding efforts, infrastructure development and capacity building.
The Afghan economy has recovered from having reserves of USD 180 million to over USD 7 billion now. The country's per capita income has risen from USD 200 to USD 700, Karzai said.
He said those who invested early have reaped rich dividends and assured all help to Indian businesses.
"Those who came ahead are now multi-millionaires," he said, citing the example of a telecom company which invested USD 5 million in 2002 and is now commanding a valuation of USD 700 million.
"Indeed, Afghanistan today is ripe and ready for Indian investments," he said.
Referring to the Steel Authority of India-led consortium's plans of mining in Afghanistan, Karzai said a conglomeration of Indian firms is in the final stages of investing and hoped the necessary contracts are signed soon.
Speaking at the event, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said India is committed to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan.
India, which shares close bonds with Afghanistan dating back to centuries, is helping the country both as a friend and as a partner in its progress, Sharma said.
He specifically touched on the Chahbahar Port that New Delhi plans to help build in Iran, which will help evacuate Afghani cargo and also hoped for traction on the USD 7.6-billion, 1,040-mile-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline, which will help address India's energy security.