KARACHI: Traders and transporters in Pakistan and Afghanistan are keeping their fingers crossed amid fears of losing millions of rupees as hundreds of trucks carrying trade goods, including perishable items, are lined up on both sides of the border after the closing of two key crossings following a wave of deadly attacks allegedly being planned and executed from the neighbouring country.
According to the transporters, about 5,000 trucks loaded with goods are stranded on the Pakistani side and 3,000 on the Afghan side after the Pakistan Army closed the border with Afghanistan last week in reaction to a bomb attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, which left over 85 devotees dead and 250 injured.
Talking to Dawn, representatives of the transporters and traders expressed concern over the move and asked the authorities on both sides to immediately resolve the growing crisis.
“On an average we move 700 trucks daily to Afghanistan through two border crossings — Torkham and Chaman,” said Israr Ahmed Shinwari, a spokesman for the operators of oil tankers and commercial goods carriers.
8,000 trucks loaded with goods stranded on both sides
“And some 300 trucks return from Afghanistan daily to our side. It has been a week since the border crossings were closed, so you can well imagine how bad the situation is. We are with the security administration for all measures but only request them to find a solution to this problem which has put employment of some 200,000 people at risk,” he added.
In a late-night development after the Sehwan attack on Feb 16, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations, announced the significant decision through a tweet: “Pakistan-Afghanistan Border closed with immediate effects till further orders due to security reasons.”
The decision came hours after Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had said during his visit to Mohmand and Bajaur agencies that the terrorists were trying to regroup in safe havens in Afghanistan. It followed conviction of the civil and military leadership that terrorist networks in Afghanistan were behind recent terrorism in Pakistan.
The off and on closure of the border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan is not a new phenomenon but every time it brings a human crisis as well for the people on both sides due to their centuries-old social and economic bond with each other. The situation this time has worried the traders for different reasons.
“Our trade volume with Afghanistan dropped to $1.5 billion from $2.5bn over the past few months,” said Mohammad Zubair Motiwala, a renowned businessman and co-president of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry — a duly recognised and licensed body of the two governments with hundreds of businessmen as its members from both countries.
“The two countries and their traders cannot afford further losses. But at the same time, we support every move and measure for the security of our country and our people. We only request (the authorities on both sides) to devise a mechanism which can serve both purposes — safe trade and security measures,” he added.
Mr Motiwala said he had started meetings with the authorities concerned and had first met the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan to share his concerns and suggest some measures for resolution of the issue.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2017