ISLAMABAD: Government officials on Tuesday scrambled to sort out the confusion surrounding the recent Afghan transit trade agreement, particularly with respect to the allowances given to India.
Speaking to a delegation of journalists, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani explained that the proper signing of the accord would take place only once the cabinet approves it. “An agreement can only be signed after ratification by the cabinet,” he said. Calling the agreement a broad-based understanding, he said it was reached to initiate discussions for a possible accord.
Later, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told a separate press conference in Islamabad that Indian goods would not be transported to Afghanistan under the transit trade arrangement.
The minister said that trade goods from Afghanistan would be transported till the Wagah border, from where Indian trucks will carry the goods into India. Kaira further said that so far only a letter of understanding has been signed by Pakistan and Afghanistan and that a Memorandum of Understanding will be signed only after the cabinet’s approval. He said that Afghanistan is already using Pakistani sea ports to export goods to India and that it will now have land access as well.
“There is confusion about the agreement and reports and editorials are being published which are contrary to the facts and against the interest of the country. The Letter of Understanding has been signed for one way transit trade facility for Afghan goods up to Wagah border, and not for reverse trade from India,” he said, adding, “This will be a bilateral agreement under which Pakistan will allow Afghan goods to be exported to India via Wagah border and Kabul will provide transit facility to Pakistani goods into the Central Asians States.”
Kaira said that despite clarifications from the government, a section of the press has carried editorial comments, even three days after the signing of the letter of understanding that says that trade of Indian goods though Pakistan will be against the country’s national interest. He also said that Pakistan Customs will evaluate Afghan goods at the Torkham border, seal the containers and issue bank bonds which will only be returned after the goods are handed over to India at Wagah border.
The minister said that under the new arrangement, Pakistan would reap benefits as exporting goods to Central Asian states through Afghanistan is cheaper compared to the alternative routes via air and sea.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2010.
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