Throughout history, Iran and Afghanistan have had long-standing relations with great depth and impact, especially in the field of trade and economy, to the extent that no even political upheavals have had much impact on the continuation of their bilateral relations.
In fact, the persistent ties between the two nations, based on a common language, culture and history, have made the two countries always prioritize meeting each other's needs.
Following the political developments in Afghanistan over the past few months with the Taliban taking control of the country, there were initially concerns and doubts about continued cooperation in economic and trade relations between Tehran and Kabul.
The Taliban's moderate stance and the two sides’ understanding of their needs, however, has led them to continue their economic and trade cooperation.
"The need for economic relations between the two countries and its continuation is an inevitable fact and does not depend only on political conditions," said Abdolqayum Soleimani, former deputy ambassador and current caretaker of the Afghan Embassy in Tehran, in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily.
Mr. Soleimani! First of all, can you briefly explain the general situation of economic and trade relations between the two countries?
The Islamic Republic of Iran has always been one of Afghanistan's major trading partners, and due to the Afghan interest in Iranian goods and products, there is a close relationship between traders of the two countries, so that now the level of exchanges is favorable and of course the level and rate of the exchanges can be improved.
The history of relations between the two nations has always been in a way that, despite the various political conditions and events that have occurred so far, the borders between the two countries have always been open and it has provided the possibility of meeting the needs of both sides.
How has the political changes in Afghanistan affected the economic and trade relations between the two countries?
As I mentioned, a system has fallen in Afghanistan and a new government has been formed in the country. So there may have been changes in the level of relations between the two countries, but it has not a considerable effect on bilateral ties. Regardless of what political system rules Afghanistan, the trade between the two countries has always been underway.
What is the reason for the continuation of economic relations during these years, despite various political issues and events?
Both the common border and the common culture as well as the common needs have made the trade relations between the two countries persistent and continuous. As we have seen, the recent developments of Afghanistan did not halt trade relations, because the transit and exports between the countries don’t depend only on political circumstances. The relationship between the two countries is inevitable because of the needs of people as the businessmen are working in the field and the economic relations continue.
Could you please give us some figures about the current level of trade exchanges and trade balance between two countries?
I cannot say the exact amount of trade, but the Islamic Republic annually exports about $4 billion to $5 billion worth of products and services to Afghanistan, and in return Afghanistan exports about $20 million to $30 million worth of goods to Iran per annum.
The trade balance between the two countries is in Iran's favor. We are also happy about this, because in any case, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan each have their own economic potentials and export capacities, and Afghanistan meets its needs through imports from Iran.
Have you had negotiations with the Iranian side to increase your share in exports to Iran?
In my talks with Iranian officials, I called for paving the ground for increasing the export of Afghan products to Iran. Afghans are interested in importing Iranian goods. A joint effort must be done so that Afghan goods can find their way to the Iranian market.
I also must note that we witness the efforts of Iranian officials as they are trying to devise relevant trade and economic instructions. The important point is the joint understanding of both sides, meaning that the Iranian side welcomes Afghanistan's exports to Iran, but this process must be accelerated.
What are capabilities and potentials of Afghanistan in the field of export and investment?
Afghanistan is an astonishing country in terms of natural and mineral resources. There is a good investment market in Afghanistan in the production of cement, decorative stones and precious stones, and we also have grounds for export in these sectors.
There are also capacities in many other sectors. In the field of dried fruit production, for example, Afghanistan now exports its products to many countries. In general, Afghanistan has facilities and capacities in the field of exports, which can be said to be unique in the region and perhaps the world.
How do you see bilateral investments now?
Afghans now have a good presence in the investment market in Iran, already having made significant investments here, which have had an impact on the country's economic affairs. It is also possible for the Iranian side to invest more in Afghanistan, because Afghanistan is a pristine land in terms of investment, and investors can take much benefit in doing so.
Are there legal and incentive frameworks in place in Afghanistan to pave the way for foreign investment?
Afghanistan's economic sectors will provide the necessary assistance to interested investors, as the laws that have been prepared in Afghanistan in the last two decades have been very modern in terms of facilitating foreign investment.
Finally, is there a further point you’d like to convey to Iranian people and officials?
First of all, I thank the people and officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran for hosting Afghan refugees over the past 40 years. In my opinion, the existence of a common culture and history has led Afghans to always choose Iran as their top immigration destination when the life therein became too tough to bear with.
The presence of the spirit of friendship and brotherhood between the two nations has led many Afghans to live, work and study in Iran over the past years. Of course, migration has its own problems, but the important point I want to say is that, past events have shown that the two nations have never been separated, and it is necessary for the officials of the two countries to redouble their efforts to bring the two nations closer.
And if there are any problems for the immigrants, they should be resolved, which, of course, I say, the officials of the Islamic Republic have taken the necessary care in this regard, and the essential services are provided to the immigrants as much as possible.
Of course, it is normal that there are problems in a country that receives more than 3.5 million immigrants from another country, and we hope that these problems will be solved with the spirit of brotherhood.