LANDI KOTAL: Trade at Torkham crossing, on the border between Pakistan-Afghanistan, remained suspended for a fourth consecutive day on Friday after importers and customs’ agents announced plans to launch a strike unless their demands were met.
As a result, hundreds of lorries and trucks loaded with goods have been stranded on both sides of the Durand Line.
Importers and customs agents at the entry and exit point to the country have been protesting for the past four days against new rules imposed by the government.
It has prompted drivers and helpers of the 150 stranded trucks to join the customs’ agents strike at the border crossing.
They urged Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Governor Shah Farman and Prime Minister Imran Khan to intervene in the matter and help sort out the issues.
Zarqeeb Shinwari, the president of the All Torkham Customs Clearance Agents Association (ATCCAA), stated that a massive 70 per cent of Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan is conducted through the Torkham border crossing with the remaining 30 per cent conducted at other entry points.
He said that per the new policy introduced by the government, all plants and vegetables require a protection certificate before they can be imported from Afghanistan.
Moreover, a new fumigation process has also been put in place which requires agents to fumigate goods before they can enter the country.
“We do not have fumigation facilities,” explained Shinwari, adding that the forms for the plant protection certificates are not issued from the border post either.
To make matters worse, he said that they do not have access to the WeDoc — the paperless customs clearance process document — at the crossing either.
He added that if the government wishes to impose the new regime, it must provide all the necessary facilities.
“But these are just excuses to limit the trade volume with Afghanistan,” Shinwari opined.
Reminding that transit trade had ground to a halt at the border check post for the past four days, Shinwari warned that unless they cooperated, Kabul may impose similar restrictions on goods being imported from Pakistan, causing a loss to Pakistani exporters seeking to gain a foothold in the Afghan market.
On Thursday, negotiations between the chief customs collector at the border crossing and the protesting customs’ agents had fallen through with no headway.
The customs’ agents demanded that the government adopt a uniform policy across all border crossings with Afghanistan.
Moreover, they demanded that special gate passes should be issued to agents who are supposed to cross over the border multiple times a day.
Further, a container should be allowed to bring in a mix of items like at the Kharlachi border in the Kurram Tribal District and the Ghulam Khan border in North Waziristan Tribal District.
They also demanded that the border authority should dispose of the contravention cases filed against 200 agents and the rules of fumigation should end.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2018.