Afghan traders said on Saturday that they will ask the United Nations and United States to intervene if Pakistan did not release their containers blocked at the Karachi port.
In a phone call from Kabul, deputy head of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) Khan Jan Alkozai told The Express Tribune that his government’s diplomatic efforts have failed, and importers are suffering losses of millions of dollars in demurrage payments.
“We had planned to approach the UN and the US on Saturday, but temporarily delayed it on the government’s request in a meeting with the commerce minister in Kabul,” he said.
“We will wait till Monday, to see if diplomatic efforts by the Afghan government reap yield. If its efforts do not resolve the problem, we will be left with no choice but to raise the issue with the UN mission and the US embassy in Kabul,” Alkozai said.
Nearly 3,500 containers have been stuck at the Karachi for the past three months.
The ACCI deputy head said that in a meeting with Afghan and Pakistan traders in Islamabad on January 1, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf ordered for the blocked containers to be released within 10 days. However, the premier’s orders have yet to be implemented.
He said Afghan traders have also asked authorities in Pakistan to allow them to take the containers to Iran’s Bandar Abbas Port if they are not cleared from the Karachi port.
Alokzai lashed out at the bureaucracy both in Pakistan and Afghanistan for “creating hurdles” in the implementation of the new transit trade agreement, saying that the agreement has not made work easier for traders in both countries and had instead multiplied their problems.
Pakistan and Afghanistan inked the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement in 2010 and it started working in 2011. The accord, which was signed in Islamabad in the presence of then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 18, 2010, replaced the 1965 bilateral trade agreement that allowed Afghanistan truckers to deliver their goods at the Wagha border point and permitted Pakistan to gain access to Central Asia via Afghanistan.
Alokzai said that Afghan traders are now diverting 7,000 containers of transit from Dubai to Iran’s Chabahar Port for imports into Afghanistan instead of Karachi. He said Afghan traders in Dubai took the decision on Friday after seeing problems at the Karachi port
“Afghan traders are seriously thinking of diverting their imports via Iranian ports and the Afghan government is also in the process of starting talks with Central Asian states for alternate routes,” Alokzai said.
He said harming transit trade will affect many Pakistanis who benefitted from Afghan imports as Afghan traders pay around two billion US dollars annually to their neighbours.
He said that some of the containers at the port are loaded with food and which would spoil if the goods were not cleared immediately.
Alkozai said that prices of several food items in Afghanistan have increased by 30 to 40 per cent due to the blockade as the delivery of essential items has been delayed for months.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2013.