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October 13, 2017

Transit trade


October 13, 2017

So opposed is Afghanistan to normalisation of ties with Pakistan that it is willing to hurt its own interests to make clear its anger with this country. The Afghan government has unilaterally called off a scheduled meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority – a move that will lead to a further decline in the already reduced trade between the two countries. The APTTA was signed in 2010 but implementation of the treaty has been incomplete. Many provisions, such as its anti-smuggling clauses and improvements in banking contacts, are yet to be enforced. Afghanistan wants the treaty amended to allow Indian trucks to transit through Pakistan on their way to India. It is likely the reason Afghanistan called off the meeting is because its demand for India to be part of the APTTA has been rejected by Pakistan. As much as Afghanistan may want the agreement amended, cancelling such talks is counter-productive. It will only further reduce trade – already at historic lows because of the frequent border closures – and delay implementation of the agreement. If Afghanistan does want any changes to the agreement, the way to do that is through regular talks, not by calling off scheduled meetings in a fit of anger.

This stalemate on the issue of trade is reflective of the larger Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship. As Afghanistan has grown ever closer to India, its mistrust of Pakistan has only increased. It accuses us of harbouring the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network while conveniently overlooking that the TTP has its bases in Afghanistan. The few meetings there have been between the two sides over the last year, such as Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa’s talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last week, have not led to any breakthroughs. Pakistan has found it necessary to seal the border on occasion after militant groups operating out of Afghanistan have carried out attacks on our territory or when Afghan troops have indiscriminately fired across the border. When such steps need to be taken, it is inevitable that the APTTA will not be fully implemented. But with Afghanistan not even willing to talk about the APTTA, there is a danger it will fall to the wayside. Pakistan is already considering using the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the highways being constructed to China as an alternative route to the Central Asian markets. Should that happen, Afghanistan will find its intransigence has made the agreement irrelevant. It is far better to continue regular talks rather than reach that unfortunate stage.

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