Afghan Pak Transit Trade Agreement - Facts and Irritants
06 August, 2010
By Afshain Afzal
A word of thanks needs to be offered to Washington for facilitating and broking Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) but there are certain clauses that would be not in the Pakistan’s interest. If we recall, Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Washington in May 2009 to begin talks on a new transit trade agreement. The talks, which proved fruitful under pressures and blackmails led to a bilateral transit trade pact between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which will replace an agreement signed between the two countries in 1965.
In the same regard, an understanding was signed by Pakistan`s Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim and his Afghan counterpart Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady in the presence US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The agreement would allow Afghan trucks to carry export cargo to Pakistani seaports and the Wagah border post. The Afghan trucks on their return will be permitted to carry goods from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistani trucks would not be allowed in either the export Afghan cargo to India or Pakistani cargo to Afghanistan. In the same regard, ‘Afghan Trucks” has been specifically mentioned in the agreement to bar Pakistan trucks from handling the cargo. This aspect is not in the interest of Pakistan as it may lead to many complications at a later stage. The western propaganda machinery is misguiding the Afghan authorities that Pakistan Army and Intelligence agencies had expressed their reservations on trade between Afghanistan and India through land route in Pakistan. It is being projected in the media that Pakistan that Pakistan is against Afghanistan trade with India but this is not the case. The factual position is that Pakistanis hesitant in allowing export of Indian commodities to Afghanistan through its territory as it will have serious implications on security and would damage the Kashmir policy of Pakistan. The issue that requires to be worked out is that Islamabad desires that goods to be transported under this agreement should be scrutinized thoroughly before they are allowed to pass through Pakistani territory to India.
It is pertinent to mention here that Indian exports to Afghanistan are being transited through Karachi Sea Port since 1965. However, due to the security reasons Pakistan cannot allow Indian exports to Afghanistan through Wagah. As regard to export of Afghan cargo to India, Pakistan wants Afghan trucks to use designated routes and remain on Pakistani side of the Wagah border to unload their export cargo. Once this is done empty Indian trucks will be allowed to cross Wagah border and enter Pakistani side, from where Afghan cargo will be transferred to Indian trucks. Empty Afghan trucks at Pakistani side of border on return to Afghanistan would be allowed to carry Pakistani exports to Afghanistan through designated routes. All Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries have also expressed their reservations but these could always be worked out. In a recent development, a petition was filed by and Advocate, in which he challanged APTTA in Lahore High Court on account that the agreement was the violation of the Article 2-A of the constitution. If we recall, immediately after the agreement, Islamabad made it clear that bilateral transit trade pact would not entitle Indian exports to Afghanistan via the Wagah land route.
In another development, Islamabad clarified that APTTA has not yet been signed between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It would be interesting to note that Customs authorities of Pakistan and Afghanistan have jointly drafted a new customs-protocol under the APTTA for the regulation of transit traffic through two countries. The customs control and transit regime of Pakistan and Afghanistan has been specified in Protocol-III of the new APTTA. The proposed procedure would ensure security of transit cargo destined for Afghanistan and the monitoring of the consignments to check their inflow back into Pakistan. Article 10 of APTTA draft, which needs a final approval, there would be exemption from routine physical Customs inspection. However, if any irregularity is suspected in view of explicit tampering of seals or locks of the transport unit or some reliable specific intelligence, physical inspection en route would be allowed. Pakistani Customs authorities would be allowed to break the seals in order to perform a physical inspection of the cargo en route but they shall affix new seals and record this action in the Transit and Inland Customs Clearance Documents.
The fact cannot be denied that the government and people of Pakistan want extremely friendly relations with Afghanistan. Pakistanis consider Afghans as their brothers and are ready to extend all sorts of help and cooperation. But unfortunately western countries and India are trying their level best to create misunderstanding and suspicion between the two countries. APTTA is in the interest of both Pakistan and Afghanistan which would not only provide job opportunity to thousands of unemployed Afghans and Pakistanis but would also help curbing smuggling. If we recall, Afghanistan was added to the regional grouping of SAARC on 13 November 2005, and became a member on 3 April 2007.
During the 12th SAARC Summit at Islamabad SAARC countries devised the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) which created a framework for the establishment of a free trade area. This agreement went into force on January 1, 2008. Under this agreement, SAARC members were to bring their duties down to 20 per cent by 2009. There is no doubt that if the SAFTA and APTTA agreements are allowed to get implemented, there will be no force on the earth to stop development in the South Asian countries. However, the core issue of right of self determination of people of Jammu and Kashmir is the main stumbling block in the path of progress of South Asia. Pakistan is not allowing India to enjoy trade facilities or permitting her to trade with Afghanistan through its land route till the time Kashmir issue is not resolved. There is no hesitance in accepting the truth that Islamabad cannot even think about allowing New Delhi to avail even a minor facility, till the time New Delhi seriously work on the implementation of United Nation Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions on plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir state.