The mutual distrust that characterizes Pak-Afghan relations cast its shadow on trade talks between the two countries on Monday as Islamabad refused to acquiesce to Kabul’s demands of allowing it throughway to New Delhi via the Wagah border. During the tenth session of the Pak-Afghan Joint Economic Commission (JEC) in Islamabad, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and his Afghan counterpart Eklil Ahmad Hakimi could only agree on a new framework to complete already agreed upon bilateral economic goals without achieving a breakthrough on border access.
It was pleasing that it was discussed that Pakistan will import 2000mw of electricity from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan. It was also discussed to established road projects which would connect Gwadar with Heart via Khuzdar. Ways to increase volume of bilateral trade were discussed to achieve that target of at least $5 billion by 2018.
However, considering Indian influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan refused Afghanistan’s demand to allow its trucks access to Delhi via the Wagah-Attari border crossing. Pakistan also declined Afghanistan’s requests to allow its trucks to load cargo as they returned from Wagah to Kabul. Under the current regulations, Afghan trucks transporting goods can only drop off their cargo at Wagah and return empty to Torkham. In response Afghanistan has also denied Pakistan’s access to Tajikistan. Pakistan was considering importing electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Despite the mixed results of the meeting, the fact that the JEC finally took place after months of delay is in itself a positive sign of improving relations. The discourse emanating from Hakimi’s meeting with PM Nawaz Sharif also hints at an encouraging future, as the PM praised President Ashraf Ghani’s government, reiterated his commitment to extend all possible support to Kabul and expressed belief that a peaceful Afghanistan was better for the whole region.
Peace process must be top most priority along with transit trade and bilateral trade between two neighboring countries.