Pakistan has decided to craft its maiden trade transport policy to avail maximum financial benefits of other countries using its land and airspaces for commercial and strategic transit.
As an Islamabad-Washington dispute over Nato supply resumption lingers into the seventh month, officials privy to the plan told The Express Tribune on Sunday that at least half a dozen federal ministries – defence, foreign affairs, commerce, communications, finance and ports and shipping – are involved in the planning of these new policies.
It was revealed that all the four provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) – a region through which Chinese consignments pass through to reach ports in Karachi and Gwadar for shipment to overseas markets in Europe and Middle East – are onboard with the plan.
A federal minister said that the plan envisions Pakistan getting a reasonable price for its land routes and airspaces being used for the supplies of foodstuff and logistics to international forces stationed in Afghanistan to battle militancy in the region.
The decision has also been made taking other factors into account — for instance a chunk of Chinese exports is dependent on Pakistani roads entering the country through the north and reaching port cities in the south.
But what has actually lured Pakistani policymakers into forming such a policy is the anticipation that their country would see thousands of trucks loaded with goods plying on its roads from south and central Asia as a major transit route in years to come.
Their hopes stem from a plan backed by the US and its western allies to design what they call a New Silk Route, connecting New Delhi with capitals like Astana and Dushanbe.
“We feel our country’s strategic location as a supply route provider has been exploited till now. It is our asset. We can earn a lot of foreign exchange even if we charge at least a reasonable price… and we are going to do that,” revealed the official.
Currently, the price that Washington offers for a container that travels from ports in Karachi to reach Torkham or the Chaman border to enter Afghanistan is one of the major irritants halting negotiations between Islamabad and Washington.
According to media reports, the US is not ready to go beyond $2,000 per container which includes the cost of repairing damaged road infrastructure against a Pakistani demand for more than $5,500.
Ministers said that both the civilian leaders and military authorities in Islamabad have come to the conclusion that it is the lack of a comprehensive policy that makes it difficult for Pakistan to table its demands effectively.
“Because there is no policy and no precedent, we can’t ask for what we want and nobody takes our calculations seriously. We want to remove this handicap for the future,” added another official of the National Highway Authority (NHA) that works under the Ministry of Communications.
The proposal was first floated in one of the meetings of the federal cabinet of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani when the US and Pakistan were negotiating the resumption of supplies suspended after Nato airstrikes in November last year which killed two dozen soldiers.
It was then decided in a meeting of political and military leaders last moth to brainstorm whether and when Pakistan would go ahead and allow the resumption of Nato supplies. But the plan was halted when the Supreme Court disqualified Gilani for contempt of court, subsequently dissolving his cabinet.
One minister said that a change of the premier doesn’t necessarily mean that the plan will be abandoned. “We will pick the thread where it was left,” said an official who has been picked to be a part of the new cabinet.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2012.