Trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the rocks

By  Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Afghanistan and Pakistan are going through extended periods of distrust owing to security situation on the border where Islamabad has been blamed for creating safe havens for various militant groups.
This along with the withdrawal of NATO forces and diverting of Afghan trade to Iran has resulted in decline of trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Repeated closure of Pak-Afghan border crossing, owing to unstable security situation as well as over-stay costs by Afghans are other contributing factors.

Between 2010 and 2011, Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan were at the highest mark of $2.4bn managing to stay stable in years 2011-12 and 2012-13 at over $2bn annually before witnessing a decline. In the current fiscal year’s first quarter the figure was reported at $362.5 million.

With Trump administration signaling India’s greater role in Afghanistan, things have moved fast. Ending October 2017, India has shipped a consignment of wheat to Afghanistan via Iran’s Chahbahar port thereby making access to Afghanistan via Pakistan redundant.

Sent via western port of Kandala, the consignment was ‘a gift to Afghanistan’. It will reach Afghanistan through trucks via Iran. The distance between Chahbahar port and Kandala, a Gujrat port, is less than the distance between Mumbai and New Delhi.

In 2016, India signed a pact to develop Chahbahar Port in Iran. To India, it awards an opportunity to check China’s rise in Indian Ocean Region and bypassing her arch rival Pakistan. India has long been uncomfortable with Chinese involvement in CPEC and Gwadar. India’s alliance with Iran to develop the seaport began over a decade ago as a counter strategy, keeping Pakistan in sight.

From Chahbahar Port, Iran’s road can link up till Zaranj in Afghanistan. This road will in turn connect with the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram road. This was constructed by India way back in 2009 at a total cost of Rs 680 crore. The last link is with the Garland highway in Afghanistan.

India will now have access to Kandahar, Herat (Afghanistan), where Iran has a strong presence and security buffer, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. It does not stop here. There are future development programme of an International North-South Transport Corridor to Russia and Europe via Iran.

Recently, Ashraf Ghani banned Pakistani trucks from entering the border into Afghanistan, giving more work to the Afghan trucking companies. In case of Pakistani trucks being used, the goods must be offloaded and transferred to Afghani trucks. Unfortunately for Pakistan, the route was not only used for Afghanistan, but also other Central Asia countries.

For Afghanistan, it seems like tit for tat. When APTTA (Afghanistan and Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement) was in place, Pakistan was doing the same to its neighbor, i-e Afghan trucks made to off load goods at the border and transfer to Pakistani trucks.

One cannot rule out the nose diving relationship between the two countries as a contributing factor to the falling trade graph. However, Afghanistan started losing interest in trade with Pakistan once alternate route with Iran started getting close to completion in 2016. With this new development, instead of serving as the primary route for goods transit, Pakistan will now serve as a backup option for Afghanistan.

Kabul had insisted upon India to be included in trilateral and bilateral agreements, which has also resulted in failure of renewing APTTA. It was Kabul’s desire to add India in the Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement with Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The current situation with Kabul shows Pakistan’s complacency towards Kabul coupled with an excessive focus on handling the Chinese traffic back and forth from the Arabian Sea. This approach seems faulty for a number of reasons.

First, putting all eggs in one basket is never a good idea, something Pakistan failed to learn from its past dependency on the US. Second, the influence of Pakistan in Afghanistan, already being played down by US due to her interest to check Chinese influence in the region, will water down further. Third, after sanctions were lifted from Iran, China was quick to sign a bilateral pact to increase trade reaching almost $600 billion for the next 10 years. Pakistan has ignored the possibility of a fallout with China in the future and the repercussions of the same by ignoring to build bridges with her neighbours.

Will the policy makers in Pakistan wake up to see Afghanistan from wider lens rather than merely through a security prism? If Pakistan fails to address this all important question, it will eventually force her back against the wall.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9


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