Pakistan has opened its air trade route for the first time to commercial cargo destined for landlocked Afghanistan to help its war-torn neighbor’s Taliban government cope with a deepening economic crisis.
“Islamabad International Airport is now open to high-value Afghan transit trade,” Mohammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s special representative for Afghanistan, tweeted on Saturday.
Sadiq said a chartered plane brought “various industrial inputs” to Islamabad on Friday and the Afghan transit cargo was then loaded into containers before being transported by road to Kabul via the northwest crossing point. from Torkham to the Afghan border.
âI congratulate Pakistani Customs for arranging the very first international cargo plane-to-truck transfer via Pakistan. This shows Pakistan’s commitment to a geoeconomically driven foreign policy â, the envoy tweeted.
In a subsequent tweet, Sadiq also rejected as propaganda reported allegations that trucks carrying Afghan exports to Pakistan, mostly fresh fruit, were being prevented by Pakistani authorities from crossing the border. The envoy tweeted what he said was a photo of the Torkham terminal showing no fruit trucks waiting on the Afghan side.
A bilateral transit treaty, promulgated in 1965 and renegotiated in 2010 with the mediation of the United States, grants Kabul the right to conduct international trade duty-free through Pakistani airports, seaports and land routes.
In turn, Islamabad is allowed to use the designated Afghan transit corridor to trade with countries in Central Asia.
But strained political ties with the previous government in Kabul had discouraged Islamabad from allowing the transit of any goods through its air trade route until now. Kabul’s close security cooperation with India’s rival Pakistan was also a source of mutual mistrust.
The tensions stemmed largely from Afghanistan’s claims that the Taliban had used shrines in Pakistan to direct insurgent attacks against the Afghan government and US-led coalition troops for nearly 20 years, accusations denied by Islamabad.
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August prompted Washington to freeze nearly $ 10 billion in Afghan assets, mostly deposited in the US Federal Reserve.
The restriction has raised the prospect of an economic collapse in the poverty-stricken country where the United Nations says around 1 million Afghan children are at risk of starvation and at least 18 million more people are in need of ‘urgent humanitarian aid, citing years of conflict and a prolonged drought. UN officials warn that the approaching winter will only make matters worse.
The United States and other countries have pledged to step up humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. But they refused to grant the Taliban government’s legitimacy until they saw the Islamist group keep its promises to protect the human rights of all Afghans, including women, and to fight international terrorism.
For its part, Pakistan has sent dozens of trucks of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, including food and medicine, almost every day since the Taliban took control of Kabul.
The Pakistani government last month lifted the sales tax on fruit imported from Afghanistan to encourage Afghan traders and farmers. The move, officials said, led to an increase in Afghan exports to Pakistan.
Islamabad also lifted a ban on the export of poultry products to the neighboring country, hoping it would lower the price of poultry there and ensure a supply of fresh chicken as well as eggs to the general population.
Pakistani leaders, however, refused to recognize the Taliban government, saying they would wait for the world community to do so and the new rulers in Kabul to keep their commitments.
Dreaded refugee floods
Pakistan, which shares a border of approximately 2,600 kilometers with Afghanistan, has urged the United States and the world at large to engage with the Taliban to prevent the country from descending into chaos again.
Islamabad insists that continued Afghan instability will pose security challenges and trigger economic migration to Afghanistan’s neighbors.
Pakistani authorities have refused to accept more Afghan refugees, saying their country is already hosting nearly 3 million Afghans and that the international community should help with their repatriation.