Pakistan has announced the reopening of transit trade between its western neighbor, Afghanistan, and eastern neighbor, India, through its territory and land borders.
The July 13 announcement, if followed by consistent steps to facilitate trade among the three countries, could prove a major step toward free trade. But many hurdles prevent the three South Asian neighbors from tapping into their collective economic potential.
"Basically, the government of Afghanistan has requested that we try to facilitate their trade in terms of Afghanistan's exports to India through the [eastern] Wagah border [crossing point]," Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Aisha Farooqi told Radio Mashaal from Islamabad on July 13.
A foreign ministry statement said Pakistan has decided to resume Afghan exports through the Wagah border crossing from July 15, after implementing COVID-19 related protocols.
“We have already restored bilateral trade and Afghan transit trade at all border crossings,” Mohammad Sadiq, the Pakistani prime minister’s special representative for Afghanistan, tweeted on July 13.
"With this step, Pakistan has fulfilled its commitments under Pakistan-Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA)," the foreign ministry’s statement added. Concluded in 2010, the APTTA required Islamabad to provide Afghan traders access to India via the Wagah border crossing near the eastern city of Lahore.
Islamabad, however, is still not willing to permit Indian goods to be sent back to Afghanistan on the trucks that deliver Afghan cargo. Disagreements between Islamabad and Kabul have left the latter to look for alternative trade and transit routes to break free from its landlocked status.
In March, Pakistan closed its more than 2,500-kilometer border with Afghanistan because of the coronavirus pandemic. By late June, Islamabad reopened three major border crossings with Afghanistan.
But problems along the border remain. Pakistani and Afghan drivers recently complained of bribes, long delays, and harassment by police and transport union officials at the main border crossing of Torkham, which connects the northwestern Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Nangarhar Province in the east.
Nearly 900 kilometers south of Torkham, the border crossing in Chaman connects Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan Province with the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. In a monthlong sit-in in the dusty town, traders and activists are protesting border restrictions. They are demanding a complete reopening of the border to restore unrestricted trade and travel between the two regions. Trade through Chaman provides livelihoods to tens of thousands on both sides of the border.
Chaman and Torkham are the main border crossings among 18 potential trade routes between the two Muslim neighbors. Their bilateral relations have been clouded by mutual accusations of supporting Islamist and nationalist militants fighting against their neighbor.