Zubair Motiwala, Chairman of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJCCI), has been urging both Islamabad and Kabul to remove procedural obstacles to trade and the movement of people across the Pak-Afghan border.
“Due to the closure of the Chaman border for more than a month, we are facing a loss of Rs.100 million every day. This is the time to trade with Afghanistan by keeping borders open especially for trade, people movement and humanitarian assistance,” says Zubair Motiwala.
Experts say that the closure is badly affecting small and medium enterprises, as well as individual traders from both sides, worsening the hardships from rising food prices and inflation. More trade across the border can help alleviate some of the worst effects of this:
“It is time that both sides should take advantage of the fresh fruit and vegetable season in Afghanistan, which is being wasted due to closure of borders. By keeping borders open for trade, Pakistan will have a continuous supply of fresh food items which will reduce prices in the local market and bring relief to common people, whereas Afghanistan will earn much needed financial resources,” argues Motiwala.
Business community leaders claim that they are already facing multiple issues as border closures are not only impacting trade with Afghanistan but also transit trade with Central Asian countries – adding to the ongoing economic woes from inflation, depreciation of the Pakistani rupee, taxation, increasing fuel prices and prohibitive logistics costs. “At the least, the government should take measures immediately to support border trade with Afghanistan – and this has to be done to avoid past mistakes. We cannot afford missing the opportunity to develop a sustainable relationship while keeping a major supply route open and operating in the future too.”
Earlier this month, the Home & Tribal Affairs Department of the Balochistan provincial government formed a high-powered committee comprising senior security officials, home department officials, customs staff and NADRA personnel to address the issues regarding border closure and cross border movement, developing a proper mechanism for pedestrians movement, facilitation of visa/passport holders and matters related to transit trade with Afghanistan.
A high-level Pakistani delegation led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to Afghanistan also created hope that both sides will settle multiple issues and continue to trade and work together for economic and social stability in the region, and especially on the border areas.
However, the results expected of the committee and the official visit have so far not borne any fruit and the situation remains stagnant. Motiwala urges the Government of Pakistan to devise a long-term economic blueprint for Afghanistan, keeping in view its strategic importance for Pakistan trade and transit requirements.
Motiwala’s Afghan counterpart, Khan Jan Alokozai, has been trying to to use his good offices in working with the new administration in Kabul to resolve these issues: with a priority on border opening and trade movement.
In a season for freshly-harvested Afghan exports, the closure of the Chaman border has increased difficulties for border-based traders and farmers significantly. The missed opportunities are felt all the more as they gear up for what may well be a difficult winter for the economy of Afghanistan, and also Pakistan.