PESHAWAR: Hailing round-the-clock functioning of the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan for trade, Chinese ambassador to Islamabad Yao Jing said Beijing was ready to build cold storage and other facilities in the border town to promote trade and commerce in the region.
“The functioning of the Torkham border crossing is very meaningful for expansion of trade in future,” the envoy told reporters on the sidelines of the two-day international conference on ‘Belt and Road Initiative, Pakistan and China Economic Corridor and Trans-Regional Integration’ at the Area Study Centre of the University of Peshawar here on Wednesday.
Ambassadors from five Central Asian States, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, senior diplomats of the Russian Federation and Iran, senior officials of the Foreign Office, faculty members, and experts are attending the high-level event.
Though Afghanistan serves as a gateway between Central Asia and South Asia and China, the war-ravaged country’s ambassador and top officers of its mission in Islamabad were absent. The Saudi ambassador, too, did not show up despite being formally invited.
Envoy says 24-hour opening of Pak-Afghan border crossing to promote trade
The Chinese Embassy, Islamabad, UoP Area Study Centre, and CPEC Centre of Excellence, Islamabad, are jointly organising the conference with the collaboration of the Centre for Global and Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
Director of the UoP Area Study Centre Professor Shabir Ahmad Khan inaugurated the conference.
The Chinese envoy termed the 24-hour functioning of the Torkham border crossing a very positive step and said China was ready to build customs, cold storage facilities and hospital there.
He said during a conference held in Islamabad last week, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan had decided to work together for the construction of Kabul-Peshawar Highway and its further expansion to the Central Asian States.
The Torkham border crossing, around 55 kilometers west of Peshawar, was opened round-the-clock on a trial basis last Monday to enhance trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani are expected to attend the formal crossing opening ceremony on Sept 14, officials said.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has planned to announce several incentives for traders and provision of other facilities.
When asked about the suspension of talks between the US and Afghan Taliban, the Chinese ambassador said Washington’s announcement in that respect had surprised him.
He said Americans and Afghan Taliban had been negotiating for a long time and everyone had some hopes because Afghanistan had a war-like situation for too long.
“Generally, we hope that this kind of peace efforts should continue and should be carried forward,” he said.
When asked about China’ stand on the situation in India-occupied Kashmir, the envoy said that Beijing’s position on Kashmir was very clear.
“We are against unilateral change to the status quo (by the revoking of Article 370 of the Constitution) by Indians. We think that the international law, UN charter, resolutions and bilateral agreements should be honoured,” he said.
The envoy said China was concerned about ‘humanitarian situation’ in the occupied Kashmir. “By now, a lot of international communities have raised their concern and we hope that the dispute should be settled through dialogue between the two countries,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Jing told the conference that China wanted connectivity of the region through mutually-agreed projects and non-confrontational strategies.
He said China was looking to complete Peshawar-Karachi Motorway section sooner, while the Peshawar-Kabul Motorway section was the next shot.
In his opening remarks Area Study Centre director Prof Shabir Ahmad Khan asked key stakeholders to fully participate in this millennium project of ‘open integration’ of regional countries without restrictions and imposed goals.
He said countries in today’s world prospered due to openness, mutual learning andexperience.
Prof Shabir said his centre would serve as a pivotal point to garner scholastic and intellectual input for the projects of 21st century.
Diplomats from the Central Asian States told participants that Karachi and Gwadar provided the shortest route to landlocked countries.
They called for regional connectivity to provide more opportunities for development and regional cooperation.
Centre of Global Strategic Studies President retired Major-General Syed Khalid Jafferipointed out that regional integration would take a longer time if the Afghan security situation didn’t develop stable and secure environment for connectivity routes.
He, however, warned that the routes from Xinjiang could bypass it in the long run.
CPEC Centre of Excellence director Liaqat Ali Shah said industrial and trade development would happen after major energy and infrastructure initiatives were completed under the CPEC project.
He said he was optimistic that the CPEC and BRI projects would boost regional economies as regional business would have a lion’s share in the trade.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General (China) Mudassir Tipu said Peshawar, the sister city of Urumqi, had an important role to play in the BRI and connectivity of Peshawar between western China and Central Asian States.
Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2019