War on terror dented Pak-Afghan trade

Traders want old border routes reopened so that they can go back to making a livelihood

HANIFULLAH May 08, 2022
Trucks loaded with supplies wait to cross into Afghanistan at the Friendship Gate crossing point, in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE


Where once used to be hotels, restaurants, and small businesses bustling with people has now been replaced with an eerie silence and Muhammad Khan, a former shopkeeper at the once vibrant Pak-Afghan border at Ghaki Pass, wishes the old glory days would return. Khan remembers the days when “a lot of people were employed here” but then came the war on terror and in 2006 the borders in the region were closed due to the rise in militancy.

Khan, like other small entrepreneurs in the area was forced to shut down his hotel and seek pastures anew. “Since then, our livelihood has suffered a lot,” lamented Khan, adding that he was forced to move to Gilgit to find work. Bajaur and Mohmand districts are the prefered routes into Kunar, the eastern province of Afghanistan, and it was along these routes that many businesses were based. When the borders closed down, more than 20,000 people lost their jobs as per sources privy to the matter.

Now they are demanding that authorities reconsider the closure of borders so that people can make a living. With regards to trade, the Gorsal Gate of Mohmand district is also of huge significance, but terrorism also has taken a toll here like Ghaki Pass. Raheem Jan, a businessman in the tribal area of Mohmand, informed that the Gorsal trade route between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been closed since 2011.

“The closure of that route is a great loss for the poor people of the tribal areas.” Jan said that before the closures he could easily travel to Kunar and Jalalabad in Afghanistan and would transport goods worth Rs3 to 4 million per week. Now Jan is unemployed and says that he “lost everything” due to the closure of the route. “If it is opened back up, it would be the beginning of a new life for thousands of jobless people like me who are living below the poverty line.”

Traders on the other side of the border have similar hopes. Fayaz Khan, a trader who delivered goods from Afghanistan, said that the closure of the trade route between the two countries rendered hundreds of drivers, helpers, and laborers jobless besides creating shortages of food items in the border areas. Similarly, Haji Jalal, President of the Merchant’s Union in Kunar province, while talking to The Express Tribune, said, “attempts have been made several times to resume business with Pakistan, but neither our government nor their government is interested in continuing the business.”

Jalal explained that traders were once given conditional permission to resume export but that only lasted for a short period of time. Habib Hassan, a human rights activist based in the Bajaur area, discussing the powerful impact of the border closings on average citizens, pointed out that people of tribal areas are poor and the cross border trade was one of the best opportunities for their livelihoods.

“I worked with government of Pakistan a decade ago for the legalization of cross border trade and some senior bureaucrats in Islamabad and Peshawar agreed to formulate a comprehensive policy, but due to war on terrorism our efforts were shattered,” Hassan lamentingly told The Express Tribune.


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