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Afghan business community favours doing business with Pakistan

14 March, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: A member of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Monday said the Afghan business community favours doing business with Pakistan as both the countries share the same religion, language, and culture.

Ahmad Shah Yarzada stated, "However, the abrupt closing of the Pak-Afghan border leaves Afghanistan to look towards other countries which are equally willing to engage in trade with Afghanistan."

He said this during a meeting of Pakistan-Afghanistan trade delegations where a six-member Afghan delegation met representatives of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJCCI) and the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI). The meeting focused on the early restoration of the bilateral and transit trade by both business chambers on each side of the border, particularly at Torkham and Chaman, and the difficulties arising out of the abrupt closure of the border on February 17th. The joint delegation took note with grave concern that the border had been closed 5 times during the short span of approximately 8 months since June 2016. Officials from both sides cited figures of losses incurred by the business communities of both countries since the recent closure of Afghan-Pak border.

Representatives from both countries unanimously agreed to call on the Government of Pakistan to immediately open the border for the clearance of stranded cargo from port to borders. Both sides reiterated the significance of national sanctity and security and supported all measures that respective governments may take to ensure this. However, this must not be continued at the beset of hurting the economic and social ties across the border through measures such as the abrupt closure of the border for an indefinite period resulting in massive monetary losses and trust deficit. Currently, 3,000 containers in Peshawar and 2,000 containers near Chaman border are standing filled with cargo and unable to pass due to the border closure. They also urged both governments to honour their commitments on bilateral and transit agreements.

The two delegations also discussed the possible formation of a joint committee comprising of the private sector and think-tanks from both countries which should act as an advisory mechanism that both governments should consult before taking drastic measures such as shutting borders or revising economic policies. This committee could act as an economic and confidence building catalyst to ensure further enhancement of bilateral trade, rejuvenate regional linkages and promote joint investments. Members also resolved to urge the Ministry of Commerce for a possible waiver of any applicable port charges, whether detention or demurrage, applied to Afghan consignments and containers which accrued from the closure of the border in a bid to limit the monetary losses of the business communities from both countries.

Zuhair Motiwala, president and chairman of PAJCCI, insisted on a complete segregation of business and politics, stating that there was no difference between the business communities of Pakistan and Afghanistan because both wished to do business with each other. The abrupt sealing of the Pak-Afghan border not only hinders bilateral trade but also affects the confidence of the two countries' business communities to engage in business with each other.

Ishtiaq Baig, vice president of FPCCI, was of the view that there were many misperceptions where the closing of the border was being linked with a reduction in terrorism. Mixing the two would merely create more problems.

Earlier, the two groups met Afghan Ambassador Omar Zakhilwal at the Afghanistan Embassy in Islamabad. He affirmed that the meeting was an important and timely initiative taken by the CRSS to bring the business communities and chambers of the two countries together.

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