Pak-Afghan trade: Where 1200 vehicles used to pass, now only 400 go

Pukhtun Nama

As Afghanistan has no coastline, Pakistan is providing transit facilities to Afghanistan for importing commercial goods from all over the world in accordance with international law, but traders on this route are facing severe difficulties.

The 2,430-km-long Pak-Afghan border, which begins in the Wakhan belt in northern Pakistan and ends in Balochistan, has 16 locations that have traditionally been used for local transportation and border trade.

But the growing incidence of terrorism, smuggling and money laundering around the world in general and in the Pak-Afghan border areas in particular has also affected trade and access to the border.

The government of Pakistan was forced to limit these 16 places to five border gates (Torkham, Kharlachi, Ghulam Khan, Angor Ada and Chaman).As Afghanistan has no coastline, Pakistan is providing transit facilities to Afghanistan for the import of commercial goods from around the world in accordance with international law. However, only two of the top five routes, Torkham and Chaman, are used for transit trade and international trade.

Because of this, from drivers and conductors to businessmen, vehicles owners, various government and non-government organizations and even governments are facing difficulties.

Hundreds and even thousands of containers spend two to seven days awaiting for clearance at the Torkham border, wasting very valuable investment and time of traders. Three days ago, a flag meeting of Pak-Afghan border officials was held to remove similar obstacles.Below we will discuss these obstacles and the reasons for waiting and their possible solutions. When contacted, Zia-ul-Haq Sarhadi, former senior vice president of the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce and president of the Frontier Customs Clearing Agents Association, said that despite of all efforts and aspirations of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Government Special Representative for Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq and Prime Minister’s Adviser Arbab Shahzad, the plight of traders and container owners at the Torkham border has not abated.Due to these obstacles, in the last six months, traders lost more than Rs 400 million  in case of  being forced to pay extra rent in Karachi and in spoilage of goods.

He alleged that two years ago, the cost per vehicle, including transit permits, parking and tea and water at various check posts, was Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000, but now various departments (NLC, Customs, Police, FIA, Administration, FC) has greatly increased the difficulties of traders and container owners and now with the waste of time the additional cost per vehicle comes to Rs. 50,000 to 60,000.He said that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) project, which started four years ago, has not been completed by NLC yet which includes equipping the Torkham and Chaman crossing points with facilities like Wahga and facilitating the movement of goods and services from here. According to Ibrahim Shinwari, a senior journalist from Khyber District and former president of the Tribal Union of Journalists, local drivers say NLC operators are overstepping their authority. They use all kinds of delaying tactics.

Ibrahim Shinwari demanded that the number of scanners scanning trucks and containers be increased, separate entrances and exits at Zero Point be segregated and security matters be handed over to a single agency instead of two or three so these problems can be overcome.He also complaint the NLC’s promise to build the most modern terminal and the pace of work. Deputy Commissioner Khyber Mehmood Aslam, a responsible government official who attended the flag meeting, elaborated on the problems and their causes, saying that due to Corona in March, borders were closed and traffic was disrupted.

Although the borders have been reopened since June, the implementation of Corona SOPs, which include changing drivers at Zero Point, disinfection of all goods, etc., has slowed down the movement of vehicles across the border.
“Before, we used to scan only imported goods, but now in the light of government directives, all imported and exported goods, including vehicles, are scanned,” he said.

He said that due to protests and sit-ins at Chaman border in the last two weeks, traffic congestion has also increased at Torkham border.He said that NLC in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has started work on a major project of Rs. Sixteen billion, in which the arrival and departure at Chaman and Torkham borders including all modern equipped terminals will be made systematic and easy. At the flag meeting, he said, Afghan officials agreed that the traditional border procedures and the number and proportion of arrivals and departures would be temporarily relaxed to allow the evacuation of stored goods and vehicles.Mohammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s special envoy to Afghanistan and senior diplomat, described the government’s response to the call, to reduce congestion at Torkham, the government has allowed vehicles to pass through Kharlachi, Ghulam Khan and Angor Ada borders in Kurram North and South Waziristan respectively. According to him, 200 vehicles have also arrived from Ghulam Khan Gate on the previous day.

“We have ordered all cement export vehicles to leave through Kharlachi Gate,” he said.
And we have called on the Afghan authorities to deploy the necessary staff at the Ghulam Khan border to reduce the burden on Torkham by sending some of the Afghan transit goods from there to Afghanistan.
Mohammad Sadiq said that in the last 24 hours, 800 vehicles have been sent across the border at Torkham border. And soon this number will be increased to twelve hundred daily, which will eliminate the problem of congested vehicles.

With all the facts on the Pakistani side, sources say that there is a rush on the Torkham border in Afghanistan for three reasons. this includes the extremely narrow road on this side, the fault in their newly installed digital weighbridge, and their border officials saying that the number of vehicles coming and going from both sides should be equal.

The government should work with the Afghan authorities to find a lasting solution to this problem so that the two countries can benefit from the closest and easiest cheap markets.