ISLAMABAD: A top government official on Saturday rebuffed calls by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to involve India in transit trade with Afghanistan, saying it is not possible.

The official was replying to a question regarding President Ghani’s statement in which he had threatened to block Pakistan’s trade access to Central Asian States (CAS), if it did not allow Afghanistan to trade with India via the Wagah border.

Mr Ghani made those remarks during a meeting with the UK’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Owen Jenkins in Kabul on Friday. The president’s office later toned down the statement that was originally released to the media in Pashto and told journalists he had meant to say that Kabul could consider placing restrictions on Pakistani trade with CAS via Afghanistan.

Agreement with Afghanistan does not have such provision, says Pakistan

The Pakistani official contended that the Afghan leader was practically seeking concession for India as Afghan trucks were already allowed to deliver their goods to India. However, as per the existing arrangement, they were not allowed to carry back Indian goods.

“Giving concession to India is unlikely at this stage,” the official told Dawn alluding to worsening ties with Delhi. “Connectivity through Wagah is still far away.”

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had at the last Heart of Asia ministerial conference in Islamabad expressed her country’s desire to join the Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA).

The Pakistani official dismissed President Ghani’s statement as a political stunt.

“It’s not new. He (Mr Ghani) gave a similar statement last year as well during his visit to India and is again scheduled to travel to Delhi next week (Sept 14),” he recalled.

Pakistan’s trade with CAS through Afghanistan currently is negligible because of the security situation, but there were plans to bring Tajikistan into the transit trade arrangement to make it Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement (TTTA).

Pakistan is reportedly considering other routes as well for reaching Tajikistan, bypassing the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

There are plans for getting Chinese help in linking China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as Corridor 5&6 of CAREC (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation), which will establish connectivity between Pakistan and Central Asia.

President Ghani, meanwhile, had also pointed out in his comments that Afghanistan was no more entirely reliant on Pakistan for its external trade as it has got other routes for exports and imports. He was referring to the trade route India is helping to build linking Iran’s Chabahar port with Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s bilateral trade with Pakistan is on the decline. According to some estimates, it has gone down by 50 per cent over the past few months because of border issues. Last month, the Chaman border crossing remained closed for almost 14 days, while in June the Torkham border crossing remained closed for a week.

Afghan exports that mostly consist of fresh fruits suffer the most because of these closures.

Meanwhile, FO Spokesman Nafees Zakaria said: “The bilateral transit trade agreement APTTA does not involve transit to and from India [but] Pakistan continues to allow transit of Afghan fruit to India through Wagah as a special gesture.”

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2016