More rocks in the road

Published: October 12, 2017

The Kabul government has pulled out of the upcoming meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA), the forum set up with the explicit purpose of addressing difficulties attendant upon the implementation of a revised transit treaty. In large part this may have been anticipated because of the demand by Kabul that India be included in the bilateral and trilateral trade agreements. This was never going to play for Pakistan that is anyway engaged with the US in an increasingly fractious dispute over the new Trump policy regarding India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Americans are clearly of the view that they would happily partner with India in Afghanistan and that relationship is set to grow.

Trade with Afghanistan has now dropped by 27 per cent in the last year. It had reached a peak volume of $2.4 billion in 2010-11 but had declined to $1.43 billion in 2015-16. That is expected to drop again in the current fiscal to around $1 billion. The reasons are not difficult to find. Quite apart from the difficulty presented by Pak-India relations there is the fact that the border crossings are closed regularly, with Chaman and Torkham both closed at least four times in the last year.

Perhaps ironically another factor in the drop in trade is that much more effective anti-smuggling efforts have been made particularly at Chaman, which has slimmed down the profit margins of the smugglers. All in all cross-border trade with Afghanistan appears to be in terminal decline, squeezed by American imperatives and the implacable conflict between Pakistan and India. The Indians will find other ways to trade with Afghanistan if they can, and the Americans are about to arrive in Islamabad carrying big sticks and in no mood to talk softly. Add to the brew the obduracy of the Taliban who are refusing to engage in peace talks with Kabul unless their office in Qatar gets diplomatic recognition and the level of toxicity is raised a notch or two. None of these rocks in the road can be cleared easily and all are in some way connected. Something is going to have to give and it all could get very messy indeed.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2017.

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