Afghanistan will choose Iran for its trade transit purposes if Pakistan does not change its economic practices towards Afghanistan, the Minister of Commerce and Industries warned in a TOLOnews debate, broadcast Tuesday.

In the televised Af-Pak debate ‘Across the Border’, Commerce Minister Anwarul Haq Ahadi claimed that Pakistan was not fairly adhering to the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Agreement (APTA) – freely travelling in Afghanistan but preventing Afghan goods from doing the same in Pakistan.

“Unfortunately, the Pakistani traders are an obstacle to our transit. Considering the APTA pact, Afghan vehicles are permitted to travel to Pakistani ports, but no vehicles have so far allowed to travel there.

This is distressing to us. We permit Pakistani vehicles to travel to our parts of the country… This is a lack of mutual agreement, we urge on a mutual agreement. There is much pressure on us and if there is nothing done to carry it out, we will – without a doubt – change the situation,” Ahadi said.

Hamidullah Farouqi, the former Afghan Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, remarked that for decades Pakistan has used the transit route through Afghanistan for its political and military purposes.

“Unfortunately…our transit route has been the hostage of political and military issues for the last 35 to 40 years. Our Pakistani brothers have used the supply route – in contradiction with our social and economical demands – as a political and military tool,” he said.

Ahadi also highlighted the problem of illicit imports into Afghanistan from Pakistan which Afghan traders are struggling to compete with.

“I can show you goods in Jalalabad that are smuggled from Pakistan… I can assure you that more than 80 percent of the goods in their shops are illicit, mostly imported from Pakistan. This is a problem for both countries. We need to work together,” Ahadi said.

Also present at the debate were a number of Pakistani experts who argued that the transit issues stem from the problems between India and Pakistan.

“For a long period of time, Pakistan has had no good relationship with India. Although I think this relationship has slightly changed over the past two years. An improvement in the relationship with India will lead to the resolution of Pakistan’s concerns,” said Farhan Bukhari, Paksitani economics analyst.

“I have heard some Pakistanis saying that if India wants to go to Afghanistan via Pakistan, will it then let us go to Bangladesh from India and send our goods to other countries? This is not only a mutual problem,”
he added.

More than $2 billion of Afghanistan’s imports – or one-quarter of its total – pass through Pakistan’s territory, which demonstrates the need for solid transit agreements between the two.

Officials and experts at the debate who hailed from both sides of the border stressed the importance of there being more trust between the two countries.

This debate is being televised in Tuesday March 26 edition of ‘Across the Border’, aired on TOLOnews at 8:00pm, Kabul time.