LANDI KOTAL: Officials at the main border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan at Torkham have started making preparations for keeping a goods terminal operative around the clock apart from keeping the crossing open for individuals for 12 hours.
This move has been welcomed by businessmen and traders of the province, many of whom have frequent trade dealings across the border.
The preparations are being made on the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The decision comes after Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani visited Pakistan last week and worked to ease bilateral trade between the two neighbours.
A senior military source within the Torkham border crossing administration told The Express Tribune that they have received directions from the federal capital to keep the crossing open around the clock to facilitate trade between the two countries. In this regard, certain measures have been adopted and work on a special terminal at the crossing is currently in its final phase.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said that the measures are aimed at enhancing the bilateral trade with Afghanistan. This would automatically increase the trade volume between the two countries and hence boost job opportunities on both sides of the border, particularly in the newly merged tribal districts.
“The measures will facilitate trade on the border,” he said, adding that special measures will be adopted to facilitate Afghan nationals.
The official clarified that in the first phase, they will only open the new terminal for goods-bearing vehicles. The human crossing, he explained, will follow in the second phase.
“We are already providing special treatment for the old and sick and those who have passed away on the other side of the border,” the source added.
Landi Kotal Assistant Commissioner Muhammad Imran on Thursday said that they have yet to receive formal directions from Islamabad with regards to opening the border terminal around the clock, but said that certain measures adopted by various departments in the area point towards that.
Zahid Shinwari, a former president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), has hailed Islamabad’s decision to open the Torkham border around the clock for trade.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, he appreciated the government’s ‘good’ decision, adding that Islamabad should ensure the provision of modern facilities at the border crossing.
He added that sans an upgrade in facilities at the border will only serve to increase hurdles.
Shinwari warned that owing to a small number of Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) immigration staff, and customs officials present at the border crossing, there was a chance the increased traffic could result in a bottleneck which could slow down the entire process.
Appreciating the announcement, he urged the government to improve things on the ground to facilitate the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to trade.
In 2014, Shinwari said that Pakistan-Afghanistan transit trade stood at $2.5 billion and that they were expecting it to rise to $5 billion. Instead, it had reduced to $1.4 billion.
“First Impressions are the last impression, in other countries, visitors and traders are even provided with complimentary juice at airports, but at the Afghan-Pakistan border, even the elderly have to stand for hours on end,” Shinwari complained.
He appreciated that the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) was signed during Ghani’s visit which was a breakthrough in bilateral trade.
However, with Iran, India and China capturing the Afghani market, Pakistan should take concrete steps to provide every facility to traders and patients of Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2019.