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Thursday October 28, 2021

Aid groups seeks air route forgoods transportation to Afghanistan

October 15, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has received requests from a couple of international organisations seeking permission to allow transportation of transit goods through Islamabad airport to war ravaged Afghanistan for avoiding an eruption of a full-fledged humanitarian crisis.

Pakistani authorities have also included such facility into the upcoming Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) which was still under consideration and so far, both sides have not finalised any fresh agreement. Both the countries had granted six-month extension into the existing APTTA 2010 agreement which was going to expire by mid-November 2021. There are potential risks attached to this proposal as it might increase the smuggling back of goods into Pakistan.

However, an inter-ministerial meeting has been convened next week including the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Commerce, Finance, and FBR for devising a strategy for placing all safety protocols to grant limited time specific permission for one- or two-month period till finalisation of fresh APTTA.

Some circles alleged that some private parties were also exerting influence to grant it permission for transit of goods from Islamabad airport to Afghanistan through road even though such permission would be in stark violation of Custom Rules as well as APTTA.

The APTTA 2010 had superseded the Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement which was signed in 1965. The transit agreement had basically granted Afghanistan the right to import duty-free goods through Pakistani territory except for few negative items such as a right-hand vehicle, arms and ammunition, and some others. The agreement does not cover road transport vehicles from any third country, be it from India or any Central Asian Republics (CARs).

When contacted, senior customs official told The News that they have received such requests from ICRC and other organizations for allowing the transportation of transit goods through Islamabad airport.

This permission would be attached to the bonded carrier, sealing, and tracking system under Transit Trade rules and regulations.

“Pakistan may attach conditions to allow transportation of goods through Islamabad airport” an official said. He added that Islamabad airport could become the hub of transit trade if the whole process was streamlined without creating bureaucratic stumbling blocks.

There are several internal officials who argued that many eyebrows were raised because Kabul airport was fully functional and the Taliban-led regime did not make any request to this effect. The current Afghan government has not made any request for amendment in APTTA 2010 to Pakistan in order to affect air to road transit of goods for the country. There are rampant fears that such permission under the garb of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan might pave the way for transportation of commercial goods in the grab of humanitarian aid. Any misuse of transit facility may cause losses to our national exchequer, added a source. “This could become opening up another route for smuggling.”

But customs officials do not agree to this fear and argued that all safety measures would be in place but the government would have to upgrade facilities at Islamabad for ensuring placement of Web-based One Customs, bonded carrier, proper sealing, and tracking of containers for safe transportation of goods from Islamabad to Afghanistan.