THE launch of round-the-clock operations at Torkham — one of the two key trade and travel routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the other being Chaman in Balochistan — is one of the rare confidence-building measures taken by either side in recent years. The availability of day and night customs and immigration facilities at Torkham is expected to rapidly boost bilateral trade and make it easier for people travelling to and from Pakistan. The new data shows that the trade volume across Torkham has increased by about 55pc since upgradation of the border post early this month; hopefully, it should continue to surge in the months ahead. Similarly, the cross-border traffic of Afghans for medical treatment in Pakistan and for other reasons is also expected to jump once the government here upgrades its visa-processing section at its embassy in Kabul and reconstructs its Jalalabad consulate, which is in very poor shape because of being subjected to repeated militant attacks. Encouraged by early results from Torkham, a federal minister has hinted at the provision of round-the-clock immigration and customs services at Chaman too, if and when required.
Although the initiative was undertaken on the instructions of the prime minister, KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan’s active interest in it expedited work on the project. Indeed, closer business ties with Afghanistan are an important aspect of the provincial economy. Brisk bilateral trade will help create new jobs in the region, improve public services and attract investment in transport and other infrastructure. China has already expressed its desire to set up cold chain facilities and a hospital at the border, and its foreign minister has spoken about Beijing’s plan to build a motorway connecting Peshawar with Kabul. This initiative could be a first step towards enhancement of regional connectivity. Peshawar as a regional trade hub could help Pakistan access the Central Asian markets for its export cargo once differences over road transit facilities through Pak-Afghan territory are resolved. Also, the goal of regional connectivity and improved trade ties cannot be achieved without concerted efforts from both sides to bridge their political differences. There has been a visible improvement in bilateral ties at the political level in recent months due to Islamabad’s efforts to convince the Afghan Taliban to sit across the table with the elected government in Kabul. Both countries should use this to build trust and an enduring relationship for the future of their people.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2019