Kharlachi is the only border crossing in Kurram district currently open for trade.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is planning to open two more border crossings with Afghanistan in Kurram district.
The volume of traffic at the existing crossing in the area has been increasing and can become hard to manage. The Kharlachi border crossing is 20 kilometres from Parachinar city. The road being bumpy and dilapidated, it takes around 40 minutes to cover the distance. At Kharlachi, the air is full of coal dust and one can see a number of labourers loading and unloading cargo. The security forces at the gate keep a watchful alert.
In 2005, the federal government had issued a notification declaring Kharlachi a customs station. Due to the non-availability of proper infrastructure, the customs officials began their operation in a tent. There was no gate on either side. Security duties were taken up by local tribesmen.
In 2008, the customs operation was suspended following eruption of sectarian clashes in Kurram. The operation remained suspended for three years. It, finally, resumed in 2012. Over the last 10 years, the station has progressed well. Suitable gates have been constructed on both sides. In 2018, the National Logistics Cell (NLC) took over the border trade operation and started constructing several terminals.
Currently, the NLC is responsible for terminal operation at Kharlachi station and the customs staff for checking goods and tax collection. Army personnel look after border security.
Pakistan imports coal through the Kharlachi station. Cement and rice are the main Pakistani exports to Afghanistan. In the early days after the opening of the station, customs staff used to check the goods manually. However, the NLC has now started using X-ray scanners. On average, around 80 trucks bring cargo from the Afghan side every day and 60 leave with Pakistani exports.
In the beginning, Kharlachi was a seasonal custom station. Fruits and vegetables were then the main traded items on both sides. “Kharlachi border operation starts at sunrise and closes at sunset. On average, we receive around Rs 10 million in fees every day,” says a custom official.
Kharlachi is the only legal border crossing in Kurram district currently open for trade. Considering it is the shortest route to Kabul, the government is planning to start transit trade via this station.
Abdul Karim Khan, special assistant to KP chief minister for industries and commerce, visited Kharlachi on February 28 and met with local traders. “We are planning to open Shaheedano Dand and Teri Mangal border crossing for trade. The opening of these two points will create employment opportunities and boost trade,” Abdul Karim Khan announced.
“We are planning to open Shaheedano Dand and Teri Mangal border crossings for trade. The opening of these two new points would create employment opportunities and boost trade,” says Abdul Karim Khan, the special assistant to KP chief minister.
MNA Junaid Akbar, the chairman of the National Assembly’s special committee for development of former Tribal Areas, says the committee has proposed new border crossings in Bajaur and Kurram as well. “The opening of new border points for trade is dependent on a conducive law and order situation in Afghanistan. We are ready to open new border crossings for trade with Afghanistan in the newly merged districts. High-level negotiations are under way. The delay is mostly from the Afghan side,” Junaid Akbar says.
A special committee has been formed under National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar. Sajid Hussain Turi, the MNA from Upper Kurram, is also a member of the committee.
“We have discussed the opening of Shaheedano Dand border crossing at Lower Kurram in the NA committee. It is the shortest route to Kabul from Kurram. We have also taken up the matter of operationalisation of immigration counters in Kharlachi in the house committee. The immigration counter operation too is dependent on the security situation. Last month, some terrorists had attacked security checks posts and killed five soldiers in Kurram,” Sajid Hussain Turi says.
On March 13, Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq had shared the volume of Pak-Afghanistan trade from his Twitter handle. “A total of 217 cargo trucks have crossed the Pak-Afghan border at Kharlachi station. A total 139 trucks came to Pakistan, while 78 trucks entered Afghanistan.” The number shows that after Torkham, Kharlachi is becoming a busy crossing point in the newly merged districts.
The Plant Protection Department has not been made operational at the crossing. It is an important wing of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research that issues permits to food and non-food organic items at the border crossing.
Traders have requested the government to establish a PPD set-up at Kharalchi station. In KP, PPD staff is currently available at only the Torkham crossing.
Lack of banking facilities in Kharalchi is another hurdle for the traders. For online transaction, the traders have to visit Parachinar city. Internet and mobile phone services are also missing.
Construction of better roads too can boost trade at the station. A better road from Hangu to Kharalchi can attract more traders. The construction of an expressway from Hangu to Kharlachi can also lower the burden on the Torkham crossing.
“We are working on various options to connect Thall-Kharlachi Road with Dera Ismael Khan Motorway,” Abdul Karim Khan says.
The NLC has also completed the infrastructure for immigration counters at Kharlachi. However, staff shortage is holding the operation.
The author is a radio producer. He tweets @daudpasaney