Transit trade: Pakistan commits to releasing 700 stranded Afghan containers

Kabul says it is commercial cargo with duties paid by importers.


Shahbaz Rana January 17, 2012

ISLAMABAD:


Pakistan on Tuesday agreed to clear Afghan commercial cargo, stuck at its ports, in 10 days as Kabul warned that small irritants could have a big impact on bilateral relations.


The Afghan commercial cargo has been piling up since Pakistan cut Nato supplies in response to an attack on November 26 on its checkposts in Salala, which left 24 troops dead.

Though Pakistan made a commitment to clear the cargo, an official of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) revealed that tax authorities had recently seized 285 containers from the US that came in the garb of Afghan commercial cargo.

The US greatly relies on Pakistani transit route to supply essential items to its forces fighting in Afghanistan.

Speaking at a news conference after the conclusion of a two-day Joint Economic Commission meeting, Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said Afghanistan’s complaint about blocking of its commercial cargo would be addressed within 10 days.

His Afghan counterpart Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal said Pakistan’s decision to cut off Nato supplies greatly affected the transport of Afghanistan’s commercial cargo. He said over 700 containers, some of them carrying perishable goods, had remained stuck since the suspension of Nato supplies.

“This has happened because of a misunderstanding on the part of Pakistani authorities and now we would like to see quick flow of containers,” he said, adding Afghanistan has proof that these were commercial containers as importers have paid duties on them.

“If you do not have political will, simplest things will be difficult to resolve… small irritants can have a big impact on bilateral relations,” Zakhilwal said.

Shaikh said both the sides have agreed to resolve all issues and it was a continuous process. The two sides also agreed to double the volume of bilateral trade in the next three years. Currently, the trade volume is $2.5 billion.

Shaikh said Afghanistan raised the issue of delay in clearance of insurance deposits by insurance companies and it was decided that a mechanism would be finalised by Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Council, a body formed to resolve issues arising during implementation of the transit treaty.

He said both the sides have agreed to explore the potential of hydroelectricity by building hydropower plants at Kabul River. In this regard, an Afghan delegation will visit Pakistan soon.

The Afghan side asked Pakistan to explore the 24,000-megawatt hydropower potential of Afghan rivers for meeting energy needs. It agreed to provide further information about existing potential of Kabul and Kunar Rivers.

The Afghan side also agreed to provide the right of way for constructing Chaman-SpinBoldak Rail Link. “The right of way will be provided within three months,” said Shaikh.

He said it was also decided to complete Torkham-Jalalabad Highway within a year. The road is financed by Pakistan.

Meanwhile, during a meeting between delegations of Pakistan and Afghanistan the issue of missing Afghan containers also came up for discussion.

An FBR official said Afghanistan claimed that none of its containers had gone missing and it had cross-border certificates of all containers coming through Pakistan.

FBR has told the Supreme Court that around 28,098 Afghan-bound containers had gone missing, causing a loss of Rs55 billion to the exchequer on account of duties.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2012.

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