ISLAMABAD: Pakistani and Afghan businessmen and traders have pressed their governments to separate trade from politics as deteriorating relations have badly affected bilateral trade, decreasing it from 2.7 billion US dollars to 1.2 billion only in only in one and half year.
Members of the Pakistan, Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce Industry (PAJCCI), who wrapped up their three-day talks in Islamabad, supported all measures by the governments across the border to adopt measures for ensuring national sanctity and security. They, however, said the same may not be continued at the behest of hurting the economic and social ties across the border that cause massive monetary losses and increase trust deficit.
“We urge governments on both the sides to segregate business and trade ties from political and security tensions and suggest that Pak-Afghan trade both bilateral and transit needs rejuvenation,” the traders said in a resolution. They also emphasized that appropriate confidence building measures may be instilled for removing deep-rooted mistrust in Pak-Afghanistan relationship that is not only hampering political dialogue but also significantly impact in the economic transition between the two countries.
The PAJCCI organized the “Cross border Roundtable” in Islamabad in collaboration with Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and Safewrold, a UK-based independent international organization.
President Afghan Chambers of Commerce Khan Jan Alkozai told reporters at a joint press conference with Pakistani traders that Afghan traders want to do trade through Gwadar and Karachi ports instead of Iran’s Chahbahar and Bandar Abbas ports.
He said India and no other country can replace Pakistan due to its strategic location and the historic deep-rooted relations between the two countries.
“Gwadar and Karachi ports are very are very close to Afghanistan and we want to do trade through these ports. Iran’s Chahbahar and Bandar Abbas ports are far trade. We do not want to go to other country but if you (Pakistan) shut your trade routes on us, then we will move to others,” Alkozai said.
He insisted that tensions between the two countries have negative impact on trade and economic activities and that is why Pakistani and Afghan businessmen plead to leaders to leave the trade to the traders. He said Afghanistan has been facilitating Pakistan trade with Central Asian states and Afghans also want similar cooperation from Pakistan.
To a question about Kabul’s demand to include India in the transit trade agreement and also allow Afghan trade with India through Pakistan’s land route, he said Afghans do not want India include in Pak-Afghan trade but when Pakistan suggested inclusion of Tajikistan in the agreement, then Kabul floated the idea of India’s inclusion.
Chairman Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry Muhammad Zubair Motiwala told reporters that Pak-Afghan bilateral trade has decreased from 2.7 billion dollars and 1.2 billion in just one-and-half year.
Both countries had decided in 2014 during President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad to increase bilateral trade to 5 billion dollars in five years. However, tensions, problems in trade transit, restrictions on traders by both countries and border closure had negative impact on economic activities.
The delegates called for convening the meeting of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA) for “facilitating the process of joint discussions in order to revive the economic transition leading to peace and prosperity across the border in specific and in the region in general.”
Pakistan had hosted the last meeting of APTACA, an important forum to deal with problems affecting smooth implementation of the 2010 revised transit treaty, in Islamabad in February 2016.
Afghanistan had to host its 7th meeting in Kabul in September 2017. But it postponed it apparently amid tensions. An Afghan delegate, who had been involved in Pak-Afghan trade talks for years, said in Islamabad the APTTCA should meet after every six months.
Motiwala was hopeful that the meetings of APTTCA and Joint Economic Commission will be held after the meetings of Pak-Afghan traders planned in the coming weeks in Kabul and Islamabad, adding delay in the APTTACA meeting has also had negative impact on the bilateral trade.
He said Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal has held a series of fruitful meetings with Pakistan military and civil leaders, who have assured him to remove all hurdles in the way of economic activities.
“Afghanistan is a major market for Pakistani traders,” he said, asking both governments to sign the preferential trade agreement to increase volume of bilateral trade.
He said Pakistani and Afghan delegates have met U.S. deputy ambassador and
the British High Commissioner in Islamabad who have also assured to help in removal of obstacles in the Pak-Afghan trade.
“Traders in Pakistan and Afghanistan can work as a bridge for the governments closer,” Motiwala said.
Zia-ul-Haq Sarhadi, senior vice-president of the PAJCCI told reporters that problems in bilateral trade has forced Afghan traders to shift their trade to Chahbahar port. He called for the implementation in the 2010 revised transit trade agreement. He said traders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been affected due to problems in the Pak-Afghan trade.