ISLAMABAD: The signed copy of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) is under lock and key to avoid opposition to some provisions likely to be misinterpreted as being detrimental to the national interest.
“The government decided that the agreement would be kept confidential for which special instructions were issued by the commerce minister,” said an official requesting anonymity. Kabul was therefore selected as the venue for signing the APTTA on October 28, this year, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Both countries reached the understanding that Afghan trucks would be allowed to carry Indian goods to Afghanistan on their return from Wagah after delivering Afghan cargo, ostensibly the reason for keeping the agreement a secret.
Officials believe that this could be misinterpreted as being a veiled insertion which Pakistan would be obliged to honour in the near future. “It was also agreed that no Indian export to Afghanistan will be allowed through Wagah at this stage,’’ according to the APTTA. However, it was decided that ‘a feasible proposal in this regard could be discussed in the future’.
To make transportation economical, Afghan trucks will be allowed to carry goods from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
Another part of the agreement that forced the government to avoid making the document public was that no part of the accord refers to Kabul reciprocating the gesture by permitting Pakistan to export its goods to Central Asia via Afghanistan.
Pakistani goods make their way to Central Asia through Afghanistan without a formal agreement.
Pakistan and Afghanistan had finalised the agreement on July 19 in the presence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The move invited a public outburst and critics said it was dictated by the US to benefit India.Various trade and transport bodies had also raised objections to the agreement, fearing competition from Afghan truckers.
According to the APTTA, Afghan trucks will be allowed to carry Afghan transit export cargo to Pakistani seaports and to the border at Wagah.
Sponsored by the United States, Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the Afghan transit trade in Washington on May 13 last year to allow India to use Pakistani soil for trade with Afghanistan.The two presidents were to seal the agreement before Dec 31, 2009, allowing Afghanistan-Pakistan-India to trade overland. But the question of allowing the land transit facility to India evoked a strong reaction in Pakistan resulting in the deadline being missed.
The federal cabinet in its meeting approved the APTTA in the first week of October. An announcement revealing certain clauses of the new agreement had specified that Afghan trucks will be allowed to carry goods to the Wagah border, but they will not be allowed to carry Indian goods to Afghanistan. In return, Pakistani trucks will be allowed to go through Afghanistan to Central Asia, Iran and Turkey.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2010.