ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday announced several trade and travel concessions for Afghanistan, besides committing Rs5 billion in humanitarian aid.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced these steps at a press conference after returning from his first trip to Kabul since Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan following the fall of Ghani government in mid-August.
The foreign minister noted a “positive change” in Kabul as he found new Afghan leaders more open to resolving the irritants in relationship.
Mr Qureshi in his meeting with caretaker Taliban Prime Minister Mullah Hassan Akhund focused on matters related to security, trade, travel, connectivity projects, humanitarian assistance and international recognition for the Taliban regime. Following the delegation-level talks, working groups from both sides held in-depth discussions on these issues.
FM says Taliban keen to remove irritants in relationship
Several issues were decided during the talks, while others would be finalised when a Taliban delegation would visit Islamabad in next few days, according to Mr Qureshi.
He said that steps being taken by Islamabad were meant to tell the Taliban regime that Pakistan stood by them in these difficult times.
To facilitate travel, Pakistan abolished the requirements of ‘gate pass’ and Covid-19 PCR tests for Afghans travelling to Pakistan via land border. Moreover, visa on arrival facility was announced for sick Afghans coming here for treatment and business persons.
Pakistan embassy in Kabul has been given authority to grant five-year multiple entry visas to Afghan businessmen. Similarly, service fee for visa processing has been abolished till December.
Timings for pedestrian crossing at the border have been increased from 8 hours to 12 hours per day. Cargo movement through the border crossings would now continue 24 hours a day. Afghan trucks would, meanwhile, be allowed to carry goods up to Karachi port, whereas Pakistani truckers would be able to travel into Afghanistan with their cargoes.
Mr Qureshi said these steps would cause ease for the Afghans, besides promoting trade.
Islamabad has, meanwhile, allowed duty free import of fruits and vegetables from Afghanistan. Experts from the two sides would meet soon for identifying more zero rated products for import into Pakistan. Reduction in duties on items of bilateral trade was discussed.
Mr Qureshi said Pakistani side flagged its concerns about presence of fighters of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TLP) and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) on Afghan soil.
He said he was extended categorical assurance by the Taliban that the TTP and the BLA would not be allowed to use Afghan soil for activities against Pakistan.
The foreign minister said he found the Taliban regime supportive of the connectivity projects, including CASA-1000 and TAPI gas pipeline.
He said that he announced Rs5 billion in assistance for Afghanistan. Taliban, he said, could get the material as per their own requirements and priorities.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2021