ISLAMABAD: The government on Friday admitted to losing Afghan medical tourism to India in the last few years owing to the border management policy.
The admission came from the Ministry of Commerce in a written reply to a question of MNA Mahesh Kumar Malani who sought details for decline in exports to Afghanistan in the past four years.
Medical tourism refers to people travelling to a country other than their own to obtain medical treatment.
Until 2016, Pakistan remained the top destination for Afghan medical tourists because of common culture and language and less expensive treatments than anywhere else in the region including India. However, the patient influx to Pakistan considerably decreased and was diverted to India since 2016.
The ministry listed several reasons for diversion including the border management policy of Pakistan, issues in getting Pakistani visa, unnecessary security checks at border crossing point, compulsory police report, and security clearance. Other reasons of diversion included difficulties in getting doctors’ appointments and accommodations.
According to the ministry, thousands of Afghans travel to India each month in search of medical treatment. However, Afghan patients prefer treatment in Pakistan.
It was suggested that Pakistan will have to organise, coordinate, facilitate and develop health tourism in the country.
The commerce ministry has evolved a comprehensive policy to regain market access in Afghanistan which was lost to other countries in the past few years. One of the major markets in the services sector is the promotion of tourism to Afghanistan.
The most potential is making use of Afghan medical tourism to Pakistan.
From the second export position, Afghanistan is now the fourth largest export destination for Pakistan after the United States, China and United Kingdom. The Ministry of Commerce intends to attain the market through trade diplomacy, policy formulations/adjustments, trade and investment promotion activities.
In the first step, the future of trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan will be shaped by the evolution of trade throughout the region.
China’s investment in deep water seaport at Gwadar and India’s partnership with Iran for Chabahar port, impact the optics and orientation of trade between the two countries.
According to the report, the American sanctions on Iran have once again proved that Pakistan is essential to Afghanistan’s access to seaports.
Both sides will have to revise and enter into new agreements.
Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to revise the transit treaty to harmonise it with TIR Convention, initiate talks on preferential trade agreement, and conclude the tripartite transit trade agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Pakistan provided unilateral concessions to Afghanistan in May 2018 on their request by removing regulatory duties on major Afghan exports to Pakistan to facilitate them.
According to the policy, Pakistan has identified several sectors for joint ventures investments in case the security situation improved in Pakistan. The sectors identified for investments include financial, telecom, minerals and metals, infrastructure, construction and commercial transport.
The commerce ministry is considering organising a Pakistan-Afghanistan Trade Fair. The trade fair may be held in any city of Pakistan, preferably Quetta or Karachi, in 2018-19 to provide a platform to Pakistani and Afghani exhibitors for participation and to display their products.
Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2018