Wagah open for Afghan exports but not imports, says Pakistan

Islamabad, Sep 11 (IANS) Pakistan has not stopped Afghan traders from moving products to India through the Wagah border, authorities said after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned Islamabad to open the land border or lose transit route to Central Asia.

“Pakistan is fulfilling its commitment to the Afghan people by providing them a trade transit facility,” Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria told BBC Urdu on Saturday.

He clarified that under Islamabad’s bilateral agreement with Kabul, Afghanistan could export goods through Pakistan but Indian goods could not be imported into Afghanistan through Pakistan.

Zakaria’s remarks came after President Ashraf Ghani threatened to block Pakistan’s land access to Central Asia if it did not allow Afghan traders to take their goods to India through Wagah land border checkpost.

“If Pakistan does not allow Afghan traders to use the Wagah border for imports and exports of their goods, Afghanistan will also not allow Pakistan to use Afghan transit routes to reach Central Asia and other countries for exports,” Ghani said in a meeting with Britain’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Owen Jenkins in Kabul on Friday.

A spokesperson for Pakistan’s trade ministry contended that the Afghan leader was practically seeking concession for India as Afghan trucks were already allowed to deliver their goods to India. However, as per the existing arrangement, they were not allowed to carry back Indian goods.

“Giving concession to India is unlikely at this stage,” the official told Dawn, alluding to worsening ties with Delhi. “Connectivity through Wagah is still far away.”

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had at the last Heart of Asia ministerial conference in Islamabad expressed her country’s desire to join the Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement.

The Pakistani official dismissed President Ghani’s statement as a political stunt.

“It’s not new. He (Ghani) gave a similar statement last year as well during his visit to India and is again scheduled to travel to Delhi next week (September 14),” he recalled.

Pakistan is reportedly considering other routes as well for reaching Tajikistan, bypassing the war-ravaged Afghanistan, he said.

There are plans for getting Chinese help in linking China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as Corridor 5&6 of CAREC (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation), which will establish connectivity between Pakistan and Central Asia.

President Ghani, meanwhile, also pointed out in his comments that Afghanistan was no more entirely reliant on Pakistan for its external trade as it has got other routes for exports and imports. He was referring to the trade route India is helping to build linking Iran’s Chabahar port with Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s bilateral trade with Pakistan is on the decline. According to some estimates, it has gone down by 50 per cent over the past few months because of border issues. Last month, the Chaman border crossing remained closed for almost 14 days, while in June the Torkham border crossing remained closed for a week.

Afghan exports that mostly consist of fresh fruits suffer the most because of these closures.

–IANS

ahm/vt

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