Muscat: As Afghanistan enters a new phase in its history, the country hopes the Sultanate will be an important partner in its journey towards progress and development. Speaking to Times of Oman, Azim Nasser-Zia, ambassador of Afghanistan to Oman, said, "One of the priorities of our foreign policy is establishing close relations with neighbouring Islamic and Arab countries. Since Oman is almost a neighbour, this is an aspect we are keen on examining with the country." The ambassador, who took office in May 2011, hopes to improve ties between the two countries.
Nasser-Zia is working keenly to facilitate the visit of his country's foreign minister to Oman as a first step towards a state visit from the president of Afghanistan. Noting that education is important for a country like Afghanistan, which is coming out of 30 years of war and destruction, Nasser-Zia said, "We want to upgrade the qualifications of our school teachers. For this purpose, we need assistance from countries like Oman. The education system in Oman is very similar to our system. I have requested the Minister of Education to train our teachers, especially in the field of Islamic teaching."
Regarding health services, the envoy pointed out that the Oman minister of health had agreed to train Afghan nurses here, "so their skills can be upgraded." One of the priorities of the Afghan ambassador is to establish a direct link between Afghanistan and Muscat. "Currently, there are direct flights between Kabul and Dubai, Tehran, Moscow, Istanbul, and New Delhi. I really hope the Muscat–Kabul link will work out in the near future," he stated.
There are nearly 3,000 Afghans living in Oman and working in various fields. Some of them run small businesses. "Although we don't have accurate figures, some 1,000 Afghans have registered with us. Some Afghans holding Pakistani passports have expressed an interest in exchanging them for Afghani passports, and we have agreed. I met with Lt. Gen Hassan bin Mohsen Al Shraiqi, Inspector General of Police and Customs, to request the transfer of these resident permits from Pakistani passports to Afghan passports issued by us. The request has been granted, and we are in the process of exchanging the passports," Nasser-Zia remarked.
With Afghanistan gaining access to new trade routes, the ambassador hopes to resume traditional exports of fresh fruits, dry fruits, and carpets. "Right now, we have the option of Chabahar Port, at which Iran has agreed to provide the necessary facilities. Chabahar is just across the water, so it will be easy for Afghan goods to come through Sohar Port. I have requested appointments with the minister of commerce and industry to seek the use of their dry port facilities," he noted.
Afghanistan will start trading small volumes and will then expand its operations. "Afghanistan has a lot of minerals, which we will eventually exploit and export," he stated. With regard to importing products, he affirmed, "Afghanistan needs everything and hopes to import many things."
With the media focusing on the destruction and bomb blasts in the country, the ambassador said the country's achievements over the last 10 to 12 years have been overshadowed. "We have achieved a lot over the last 12 years. For instance, the number of students attending school was barely one million, but now, we have more than 7 million students — of which, 30 per cent are girls."In the health sector, the mortality rate of newborns has come down drastically," he pointed out.
He added, "More than 70 per cent of Afghans are connected to the outside world via cell phones. The communications system has improved in the mountain areas too. Almost every house has a TV connection with 28 news channels. Besides this, we have freedom of expression too." The Afghanistan ambassador calls himself an eternal optimist as far as his country is concerned.
"I remain so with the understanding that we have major challenges ahead, mostly due to our geographical location. I want the world to know that Afghanistan is never going to be an aggressive country and will not have an aggressive policy towards any country. We want to live in peace and harmony with everyone. A stable Afghanistan is in the best interest of those around us," he said.
Talking about NATO forces, the ambassador explained, "It won't be a complete withdrawal. We still want the international community to remain engaged in Afghanistan, not as an occupying force, but in the interest of assisting our armed forces and advancing their professional skills in general. Our Ministry of Defence has announced that it has reached its goal of creating a national army with more than 200,000 soldiers. We have the numbers, but they need to be trained professionally."
He is hopeful for a bright future for the country. "The Afghan economy can get a real boost when we take advantage of the country's vast natural resources. We have a lot of copper, gold, uranium, and lithium," he said.