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Editorial: Transit trade with Pakistan

The transit trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been perennially on-again, off-again. Although there is a bilateral agreement between the countries, the constant closure of crossings triggered by strained ties has multiple times led to the suspension of trade. Recent contradictory happenings paint a perplexing picture of the current trade relations between the countries. For once, it seems efforts to mend and improve trade ties between the neighboring countries are in the works. As the Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) stipulates and calls for greater facilitation in the movement of goods amongst the two countries, the Pakistan’s strategically located Gwadar port, which is being developed by Beijing as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), started handling transit cargo to Afghanistan last week. It is a welcome development. But again recent reports reveal that fresh restrictions have been slapped on Afghanistan’s transit trucks and exporting goods by Pakistan. Based on these new restrictions, Afghanistan exports should be transited through trucks that have tracers but a majority of the Afghan lorries don’t have any. This situation in a sense suggests that the wrongs by Pakistan outweigh the rights.

Kabul traditionally relies on Pakistani overland routes and the two main southern seaports of Karachi and Port Qasim for international trade, under a bilateral ATTA deal. On the one hand, putting into service yet another the deep-water port of Gwadar is facilitation in the trade while on the other, putting restraints do no good to either one of the countries economically. As the Afghan-Pak relations have more often than not remained tense because of trust deficit, the strengthening of trade links could help turn them into cordial ones. The Pakistan establishment should realize that making hurdles would only result in the suspension of trade, something not in the interest of either country. Therefore, based on the principle of being neighboring nations, Pakistan should discuss any changes it wishes to bring about with the Afghan government, and vice versa. Therefore, negotiating the issue and exchanging possible solutions should be chosen as the path forward to mend fences and further strengthen trade ties. There should be a common understanding that we should avoid problems and not create them. Otherwise, these drastic challenges and restrictions put in place by the Pakistani government time and again would spill over from the economic sphere into a political one and others – something which should be avoided at all costs.

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