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Taliban minister raises issue of refugee assets during Pak visit

Afghanistan urged Pakistan to release thousands of containers of imports, it said, were stuck at Karachi Port since Islamabad clamped down on transnational cargo

By Agencies
November 15, 2023
Afghan acting commerce minister Haji Nooruddin Azizi calls on caretaker foreign minister Jalil Abbas Jilani in Islamabad on Nov 14, 2023. —  Facebook/arabnewspk
Afghan acting commerce minister Haji Nooruddin Azizi calls on caretaker foreign minister Jalil Abbas Jilani in Islamabad on Nov 14, 2023. —  Facebook/arabnewspk

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban acting commerce minister met Pakistan’s foreign minister in Islamabad this week discussing trade and how the thousands of Afghan citizens Pakistan is expelling could take cash and other assets back to their homeland, an Afghan Embassy statement said on Tuesday.

The visit takes place less than a week after Pakistan said that its move to expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented Afghans was a response to the unwillingness of Taliban-led administration to act against militants using Afghanistan to carry out attacks in Pakistan.

Taliban officials say militancy is an internal matter for Pakistan and have called on Islamabad to halt its deportation of Afghan citizens.

“Bilateral trade, especially stranded goods of (Afghan) traders in Karachi Port, smooth transfer of (Afghan) refugees’ properties to (Afghanistan) and related issues were discussed,” the Afghanistan Embassy in Islamabad said in a statement, on acting commerce minister Haji Nooruddin Azizi’s meeting with caretaker foreign minister Jalil Abbas Jilani.

Afghanistan urged Pakistan to release thousands of containers of imports, it said, were stuck at the Karachi Port since Islamabad clamped down on transnational cargo.

Pakistan authorities say they have lost millions of dollars in taxes because goods are being sent duty-free from its ports to land-locked Afghanistan, and then smuggled back across the border.

Afghan authorities say Pakistan has stopped more than 3,000 Afghanistan-bound containers at the Karachi Port while demanding more tax and duty payments, causing millions of dollars in losses to traders.

The goods include high-end electronics, machine parts, chemicals and textiles, all of which attract huge tariffs if imported to Pakistan. The quantities of these goods destined for Afghanistan have soared in the past two years and are unrealistic given the size of the market there, Pakistani officials say.

The issue was raised Tuesday by Nooruddin Azizi, Afghanistan´s minister of industry and commerce, in a meeting with Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s caretaker minister of foreign affairs. They spoke about “the transit problems and challenges of the two countries”, a statement from the Afghan embassy said.

“Hundreds of these containers have been parked for last several months, while some have been stopped more than a year. The goods inside are spoiling and the traders are suffering losses,” an official of the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar told AFP.

The trade row is one of several thorny issues that have grown between Kabul and Islamabad since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021.

Pakistan officials said Tuesday more than 300,000 Afghans had voluntarily left since October, when Islamabad imposed a November 1 deadline for them to depart, but Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities insist the majority have been forcibly repatriated.

Pakistan said it has opened five new border crossing points to help speed up the process. Millions of Afghans fled their homeland over the past four decades to escape war and poverty, most settling in Pakistan or Iran.

Pakistan says the deportations are to protect its “welfare and security” after a sharp rise in attacks, which the government blames on militants operating from Afghanistan. Afghan authorities are struggling to cope with the influx of returnees -- including many who have never set foot in the country.

Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai told reporters in Quetta that authorities had blocked at least 50,000 identity cards held by Afghans that they believed were fake. “We suspect that 250,000 more fake ID cards have been issued. The matter is under investigation and those found guilty will face strict action,” Achakzai said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Office said Jilani conveyed the message that: “Full potential for regional trade and connectivity can be harnessed with collective action against terrorism.”

The Foreign Office said the Taliban acting commerce minister would also undertake a trilateral meeting with representatives from Pakistan and Uzbekistan on Tuesday.

The agenda for the trilateral meeting was not clear, but the three countries have been working on plans for trade transit and railway connections between South and Central Asia that would cross through Afghanistan.