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Crossings ban won’t affect Afghanistan economically

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Pakistan itself carried out attacks in its soil to deceive international community

By Imtiaz Waziri-KABUL: Providing cover to its wrong deeds of supporting and harboring militancy, the government of Pakistan has turned every available source to deceive the regional and beyond regional countries and show that the country is going through tough time. The series of attacks in Pakistan was an act to emotionally earn trust and sympathy of the global community. Pakistan has gone too far this time, because it blamed Afghanistan for the series of attack there. Without thinking at least once the military establishment of Pakistan banned crossings with Afghanistan, causing huge difficulties for the common people and bilateral trade. Pakistan has already earned bad name of supporting militants, and it is no exaggeration as top insurgents were killed there. It is crystal example that Pakistan has been engaged in supporting militancy for years, and uses it as weapons for strategic goals.

Firstly, the decision of Pakistan to close the crossing points with Afghanistan was largely a symbolic act aimed at pretending as a victim of terrorism to overcome the ongoing regional and international isolation as it constantly supports various terrorist groups by providing safe sanctuaries on its soil.

The Afghan ambassador to Islamabad, Omer Zakhilwal has numerously hold talks with civil and military leadership of Pakistan to reopen the crossing points. But all meetings were dashed to the ground where the government of Pakistan deemed it fit to brash aside the issue rather than taken a bold step to resolve it. Despite the false promises made by the Pakistani leadership, still the crossings remained closed till unknown time. Earlier, these crossings were reopened for two days on March 7 and 8 in order to allow the stranded Afghans who had gone to Pakistan on valid visas. Thousands of Afghans came home during these two days. Secondly, Islamabad was looking to politically and economically blackmail Kabul’s government by creating obstacles for the ordinary people and transit trade which was a wrong attitude. The world had witnessed that hundreds of stranded goods trucks loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables and poultry had been wasted on Pakistani side, resulting in heavy financial losses on traders. Shading light on the economic aspect of closing the crossing points by Pakistan is very much crucial at current status quo. Islamabad’s major export to Kabul includes rice, petroleum, cement, pharmaceuticals, vegetables, fruits, wheat, and etc… has been banned. Similarly, the top exports of Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, China, Iran and Turkey are comprise of grapes, scrap iron, coal briquettes, raw cotton and various kinds of fresh and dry fruits. The point is that Kabul was a good market of Islamabad’s products, and it is worth mentioning that Pakistan is a deadlock country in areas of doing business with regional and sub-regional countries. Due to duplicity of Pakistan, India, Iran, Bangladesh are not in view to do business even to sub-zero level. The major point for Kabul is that Islamabad would soon face financial deficit if its products not flood to Afghanistan. We all know that Bangladesh will never nod for made-in Pakistani products even in dire need. Iran is another country that will never wants Pakistani products, taking it as a low quality. Situation between New Delhi and Islamabad is like open book to us all, and there is no chance for mentionable business between the two. Islamabad has only Kabul for export of its products, the crossing ban would soon prove bitter test for Pakistan.

Sidelining Islamabad, Afghanistan has several alternative markets to import products as per its need. The high cost of handling charges at Pakistani ports, for onward transportation and closure of crossing points has induced Kabul to turn to Iran and various other Central Asian countries. Consequently, Pakistan has lost its share in Afghan transit trade, as the number of cargo containers declined to large extent. Afghanistan has signed more than 36 trade agreements and protocols with different organizations and countries in recent years, including Iran, India, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Most importantly, Kabul now has membership of World Trade Organization (WTO), where Pakistan, which is one of the members of WTO, but has violated the words of the agreement by closing transit trade routes with Afghanistan. The Kabul, New Delhi and Tehran have signed a tripartite agreement bypassing Pakistan. The Pakistan’s decision of closing its land routes with Afghanistan has been provided an opportunity to Kabul to ink an agreement with New Delhi to airlift trade commodities, including fresh fruits and as well strengthened India’s rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. According to the agreement, the time-tested friend, India has agreed to exempt Afghanistan from taxes, especially on fresh fruits. Recently Deputy Foreign Minister, Hekmat Khalil Karzai, who is on a visit to India to participate in the international counter-terrorism conference hold talks with Minister of State for External Affairs, M J Akbar, foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and Amar Sinha on a range of bilateral issues. Both sides were committed to the early establishment of an air cargo link to overcome the hindrances being created by Islamabad in the smooth conduct of trade between them. Moreover, the Indian authorities reassured its commitment to support the Kabul’s government and the people of Afghanistan in their efforts to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and united Afghanistan within which the democratic and pluralistic aspirations of the people of the country are met. The India’s bilateral trade with Afghanistan had increased more than $684.47 million. Despite the lack of direct land access, India is the second-largest destination for Afghan exports. The Chabahar port in Iran would ultimately boost up the volume of trade between the two countries. Over the past decade and a half, Kabul and New Delhi have seen their ties deepening day by day. After the overthrow of the Taliban regime, New Delhi has provided more than US$650-750 million in humanitarian and economic aid, making it the largest provider of financial aid for Kabul in the region. Moreover, India is working to improve its transport connectivity and economic collaboration with South and Central Asian countries and had already invested more than US$10.8 billion in Afghanistan. This covers setting up iron ore mines, a steel plant, an MW power plant, Hydro-electric and irrigation projects, transmission lines, roads and railway tracks and basic infrastructure. As a goodwill gesture, India has constructed a new Parliament complex at a cost of US$115 million.

It is worth mentioning that China is taking direct interest in promotion of its engagement with Afghanistan in various areas. Bilateral trade between the two countries is going to be gradually increased. Export to Afghanistan in China has been increased. Similarly, Kabul and Beijing have signed several cooperation agreements regarding installation of scanning devices for detection of explosives, technical cooperation with the vocational institute of education of Afghanistan and construction of residential apartments worth 500 million Chinese Yuan.  Beijing is interested in Kabul for several reasons: Afghanistan’s geographic location at the cross roads of Central and South Asia, between India in the South and Russian in the North, is of great strategic value to China. In addition to that, Afghanistan has vast chains of natural resources. Once extraction and utilization of these natural resources begin, there is logic to assume that China would want to profit from Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.  It’s the geographic location of Afghanistan and presence of natural resources that gives Kabul a credibility to play an active role in the development and building of One Belt, One Road (OBOR)—China’s plan to expand its politic and economic influence via a network of economic integration initiatives with three different continents. Afghanistan can play the role of Asian transit and trade roundabout—connecting Central Asia to South Asia and East Asia to West Asia to further regional connectivity, energy transport and regional trade through the OBOR corridor. In October 2015, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Middle East and Central Asia had estimated that Beijing is committed to $100 million in OBOR investment in Afghanistan. In addition to that, China has also announced a $40 billion Silk Road Fund to invest in OBOR to be spread over 60 countries—including Afghanistan. Despite of a strong US-led NATO presence in Afghanistan, China has two specific grounds to become involved in Afghanistan, especially by investing, Beijing wants to contribute to the reconstruction of the country’s economy and willing in economic engagement as China’s main contribution to Afghan and regional stability. Furthermore, Beijing is also concerned of any new instability in Kabul because it may spread to the South Asia and Central Asia and have serious impacts on the stability and security of its western province—Xingiang.

The father of modern economics, Adam Smith, stated that connectivity leads to prosperity. That’s an apt summary of the latent potential in Afghanistan’s geostrategic location. Time is ripe for Afghanistan to boost up its role as a trade, transit and business hub by linking markets of Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and China. The construction of tri-nations, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan (TAT) railway project is very much important which would link Central Asia with global markets by providing them easy and efficient access to Indian Ocean. The 635 kilometer railway corridor runs through Attamurad and Imamnazar in Turkmenistan, Aqina, Andkhoy, Sheberghan, Mazar-e-Sharif, Khulm and Kunduz in Afghanistan section and finally reaches Panjpayan and Kolkhozabad in Tajikistan with a total estimated cost of around $2 billion. Moreover, Turkmenistan has opened its completed railway link with Afghanistan on November 28, 2016 in a ceremony attended by President Ashraf Ghani and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. The country is very active in functionalizing the project. The Tajikistan has assured that construction work of the project would be completed soon. However, Afghanistan has to construct its own section of the railway track on priority bases, besides deteriorating security situation in the north of the country. Moreover, leaders of Iran, India and Afghanistan came together in Tehran where they signed the agreement over Chabahar port to be completed with the Indian investment of $20 billion including other industries in its free zone which would push Pakistan towards further isolation and provides an opportunity for Afghanistan to side-step Islamabad at largest extent by having trade with New Delhi and other countries through hot water

To show its stand, Kabul has to warn Islamabad to allow goods-laden trucks from India to travel to the Afghan border if Islamabad wants reciprocity of access to the Central Asia. After closing the crossing points, it was imperative for Kabul to lay down pressure on New Delhi to complete the Chabahar port work as soon as possible. Since the port is of utmost importance for the three countries, Tehran recently asked India to show greater speed in implementation of agreement words. Furthermore, Japan is also agreed to help India with the Chabahar port. Both the countries see strategic convergence in Chabahar as it allows the landlocked countries of Central Asia to find access to hot-water. In addition to that, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan have been promised to do trade through this warm water port. Significantly, from all standpoints, the Chabahar is better than Gwadar—‘a Pakistani port’ in Baluchistan province, where Baluch freedom movement is speaking louder. Chabahar has a deep water port that is connected to land and the mainland which does not really involve charges for loading and unloading.

After closing the crossing points, by putting a glance to the markets and observe the price of the essential items nationwide, one will find it very cool and out of burdens. The closure has caused no doomsday for the Afghan people. Everything is running well as per routine and the prices of commodities are unshaken. If you go to any market in Kabul or any other province, vegetables, fresh and dry fruits and other edible items are available at proper prices. There is no voice from Afghan side, complaining sky rocketing prices and trade loses. In addition to that, one can easily find many citizens, saying, “We need no more poultry, vegetables, fruits and other Pakistani products.” The local people are in view that ending trade ties with Islamabad would ultimately encourage local productivity and job opportunities. While on Pakistan’s side there is a negative voice against the closure of crossing points as its traders are suffering heavy financial loses, mostly belong from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. Some days ago, there was a huge gathering of traders in Quetta of Baluchistan who came hard on their government and made a demand for immediate reopening of the crossing points.

For the last few financial years including the current year has proved to be sluggish for Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan as its exports to Kabul in terms of value has been fallen by more than 27 percent while its imports has considerably increased. The Collector Model Customs Collectorate (MCC) Peshawar, Qurban Ali Khan has confirmed that Pakistan’s exports to Kabul have reduced to a large extent while imports have been increased. This ups and down could be taken as a deadly alarm bells for Islamabad in areas bilateral trade. He said during the years of 2014-15, about 40,194 trucks of different perishable and non-perishable goods were imported from Afghanistan which was increased by 44,454 trucks during the last 11 months.  Moreover, he added the exports last year were 169,605 trucks, but had dropped to 138,485 trucks during the 11 months of the current fiscal year. The value of the goods exported to Afghanistan also decreased by more than 27 percent. In the period of July to May 2015, the goods exported to Afghanistan were valued at Rs147.717 billion while exports during the 11 months of the current fiscal stood at Rs115.784 billion. The data indicates that only the export of fresh fruit of kino (orange) was increased while the overall medicines export has been fallen after the Afghan government blacklisted some Pakistani pharmaceutical companies. Similarly, Kabul imports cement from Iran. Many from the edible and daily use items are smoothly importing from Iran, Turkey and other central Asian countries. Keeping all these in mind, it’s a sacred fact that Islamabad cannot pressurize the Kabul’s market by closing the crossing points. However, closure of crossings is a violation of international laws, and Pakistan must be triggered to the court for its wrong and emotional deeds.  That’s why Afghan government has decided to register complaint against Pakistan on the forum of the World Trade organization (WTO). The Afghan envoy in the United Nations has slammed Pakistan for supporting various terrorist groups and violating the Afghanistan’s sovereignty. The Afghan government and people are saying that closing of crossing points is not a solution to the problems of Pakistan, rather making it more complicated. They furthered that plotting insurgency against its own people is not a justification to the safe sanctuaries of various terrorist outfits on Pakistan’s soil and as well closing the crossing points with Afghanistan. Islamabad has to shun the abundance of safe heavens of terrorist groups on its soil and stop its ongoing policy of keeping distinction between ‘good and bad’ terrorists. If such policy obtained, it could definitely help the two neighboring countries to overcome the ongoing trust-deficit and would mark themselves as good neighbors. The recent tripartite dialogue, between high ranking officials from Kabul, Islamabad and UK that recently held in London is a great opportunity for Pakistan to create a safe passage for itself, calling for concrete steps against all the terrorist groups on its soil and as well immediately reopening of the crossing points. Otherwise, if reluctance made, Pakistan would soon find itself in hot water where no escape insight. In the meeting, both sides nod on several issues, including a comprehensive campaign against terrorist groups. Now everything is in the hand of Pakistan, if want peace and stability to be maintained in the region has to get away from its policy of duplicity and soft corner for its good terrorists, freely roaming on its soil. The object of terrorism is terrorism, and Pakistan has to understand this, and approach Afghanistan sincerely in all fronts, especially in fight against terrorists.