By Hamid Khan Wazir
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The newly-appoint Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq made it clear that the bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan should be led by trade diplomacy, which will automatically resolve all other issues between the two countries.
Sadiq made these remarks while speaking at a virtual focus group discussion of Afghan and Pakistani traders convened by Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in collaboration with Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJCCI) and Kabul-based Organization for Economic Studies and Peace (OESP) where senior business stakeholders from Afghanistan and Pakistan participated to raise issues in bilateral and transit trade currently faced due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19.
Ambassador Sadiq affirmed that transit and bilateral trades being faced by traders on both sides of the border would be addressed separately with distinct mechanisms put in place for their effective resolution.
He stated that at the moment his priority is to address the issues of the Afghan traders in Pakistan.
Talking about the opening of the third border crossing with Afghanistan at Ghulam Khan, Ambassador Sadiq was hopeful that Pakistan is moving towards resolving most of the Afghan traders’ concerns in the near future.
Plummeting of Pak’s trade volume with Afghanistan to $1.7 billion from $2.7 billion unfortunate: Zubair Motiwala
Regarding issues faced in the transit trade, the PAJCCI’s Chairman Zubair Motiwala pointed out that licensing only one private vendor to install the tracking devices to the Afghan transit goods’ containers had significantly slowed down the movement of trucks and led to congestion of the containers at the Karachi port. To resolve this challenge, he proposed the convenient solution of licensing the government-owned National Logistic Cell (NLC) in order to avoid the long administrative procedures of hiring a private tracking company. By doing so, the monopoly that the current tracking company is cashing in on will be addressed as well while more tracking devices will be available to resolve the bottlenecks created at the moment. He further stated that as the season of fresh fruits and vegetables is currently at a peak in both countries, the government should proactively expedite the resolution of these issues so as to benefit from these imports and exports.
Former Vice-Chairman, Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and VP, PAJCCI, Haji M. Younas Mohmand from Kandahar, while thanking both governments on resuming trade, however, suggested to reduce the tedious process of 100% scanning, adding that the measure was not even a requirement stated in the mutually signed APTTA agreement. He further stated that, due to the halted trucks at the Karachi port, the cost of business had significantly increased for the Afghan traders. Like Motiwala, he urged the government to opt for the Government-owned tracking company to expedite the process. Motiwala further pointed out that the APTTA agreement between the two governments was completing its 10 years in the month of July 2020, advocating that this calls for both governments to be proactive and renew the agreement.
Haji M. Younas Mohmand also proposed that the Joint Chambers should hold a meeting every month to address the issues of the traders’ communities on both sides. Preferably, Motiwala suggested, this meeting should be held in Karachi as most of the issues of transit trade can be resolved by the Customs and Port authorities located in Karachi where representatives from Afghanistan and Pakistan government should also be present. He also suggested maintaining a database of all importers which would ease the process of transit for all concerned government departments.
Regarding the bilateral trade, Motiwala also pointed out that Pakistan’s trade volume with Afghanistan had dropped to US$1.7 billion from US$2.7 billion, which was very unfortunate. Furthermore, he impressed upon Ambassador Sadiq that as Pakistan is also facing enormous challenges in transit trade via Afghanistan to the Central Asian States via Afghanistan, following the resolution of Afghan transit trade issues, Pakistan’s transit issues also need to be addressed.
The Co-Chairman PAJCCI Khan Jan Alokozay seconded the separation of bilateral and transit trade while addressing these issues, stressing that the trade volume between the two countries had indeed dropped significantly and needed to be boosted.
Referring to a high-level meeting just held yesterday followed by the opening of the third crossing point with Afghanistan this morning, Ambassador Sadiq assured the senior traders attending that he had already shared these concerns in the meeting and was confident that the issues would be resolved in everyone’s best interests soon. Particularly, on the issue of the tracking company, the government would be making a suitable decision in the interest of the traders, he assured. He accepted the suggestion of the traders to visit Karachi to meet with government and business stakeholders and monitor the transit trade process in person in the near future.
In addition to Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq Khan, delegates from Pakistan and Afghanistan included Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, Atif Mashal; PAJCCI Chairman, Zubair Motiwala; Former President, Karachi Chamber of Commerce, Junaid Makda; Co-Chairman, PAJCCI, Khan Jan Alokozay; Former Afghan Deputy Trade Minister, Mozammil Shinwari; Former Vice Chairman, Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and Vice President, PAJCCI, Haji M. Younas Mohmand; Secretary-General, PAJCCI (Pakistan), Faiza Zubair; Executive Director, PAJCCI (Afghanistan), Naqeebullah Safi; CRSS Executive Director Imtiaz Gul and CRSS Program Manager, Junaid Khan.