By Sajjad Shaukat, PAK VT
According to a famous maximum, “a hungry man is an angry man”-the most powerful of all human instincts, as man needs bread for his physical survival, and empty stomachs are highly dangerous.
After the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, despite their government’s announcement of a general amnesty for former government officials and their rivals— assurances of maintaining peace and respecting human rights, respect to women’s rights, clarifying that Afghan soil would not be used for any terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan for launching terror-attacks against any neighboring country, including Pakistan, and the West, America and some of its Western allies as well as their media started a propaganda campaign against the Taliban. These countries, particularly the United States wanted to divert attention from (NATO) America’s defeat in Afghanistan and to pacify their public in a prolonged war of nearly 20 years.
In order to punish the Taliban, the Biden administration froze about $9.5 billion of the Afghan government’s reserves in the US banks. Some Western donors already halted their support for Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries. IMF said on August 18, last year that Afghanistan will not be able to access IMF resources, including a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights reserves if major governments fail to recognize the new leadership of the Taliban.
Taking cognizance of the US-led some Western entities’ negative reaction regarding the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and China have urged the world to support the Afghans at this critical juncture.
In this respect, Pakistan’s civil and military leaders repeatedly urged the US-led international community to assist the people of Afghanistan by addressing their humanitarian needs and restoring their financial and economic aid, as a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is essential for the stability in Pakistan as well as the entire region, including the West.
In this regard, the three-day Loya Jirga (Assembly of Islamic clerics and tribal elders) which was attended by more than 4,000 Afghan scholars, and political, social and business figures ended in Kabul-the capital of Afghanistan on July 2, 2022. The participants called on the international community to recognize the Taliban government—should lift all sanctions on Afghanistan and restore Afghan assets—called a ban on any affiliation with ISIS, and support for the Islamic Emirate’s decree against drugs and encouraged national unity in the country.
It is notable that bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan has increased in the post Taliban takeover of the latter. In this connection, at the end of three-day talks (July 18-20) held between the senior officials of the two neighboring countries in Kabul, a joint statement was issued, which said that Pakistan and Afghanistan have decided to launch a luxury bus service between Peshawar and Jalalabad and Quetta and Kandahar by the end of August this year. Both sides agreed to continue efforts to address barriers through mutual cooperation and coordination.
During the visit of Pakistan’s official delegation to Kabul, which held meetings with the acting Afghan ministers for commerce and foreign affairs, the two countries agreed to increase bilateral trade by allowing free movement of trucks and other goods carrying vehicles.
The media said that the “officials also agreed to make border crossing points more efficient to ensure early clearance of trade and transit traffic and to address the bottlenecks and impediments on a priority basis. The two sides approved the implementation of the Temporary Admission Document (TAD), allowing free movement of bilateral trade vehicles and preventing the loading and unloading of goods at the border crossing points in a bid to further increase trade between the two countries. The authorities also agreed to increase operational timings at all crossing points, particularly Torkham, Kharlachi, Ghulam Khan and Chaman-Spin Boldak.”
The media elaborated: “At the same time, the Afghan business community delegation led by the co-chairman Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJJCCI) Khan Jan Alokozai arrived in Pakistan on July 21, this year to participate in a roundtable of stakeholders of Pak-Afghan trade. The Chairman PAJCCI Zubair Motiwala praised the efforts of the commerce chamber in arranging visits to Chaman, Torkham and Swat for joint deliberations on bilateral and transit trade, exploring new avenues for trade, removing trade barriers, and supporting governments in policy formulation.”
The PAJCCI has held several meetings and reviews to finalize the recommendations so as to arrive at the proposed joint framework. In this context, a press release issued on July 23, 2022, stated that it conducted the 9th Focus Group Discussion in Islamabad on June 8th-10th 2022 about deliberation on current issues and opportunities, entailing bilateral, transit, and a barter trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs).
It is mentionable that Islamabad and Kabul had already agreed in August 2021 on extending the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) for six months and 97% of work on the APTTA had been completed—all the trade-related issues with Afghanistan had been settled, as pointed out by the secretary of Ministry of Commerce.
In November 2021 and at present, shopkeepers of Afghanistan remarked that opening the borders to commercial goods will reduce the prices of various goods. Notably, 90% of the food products such as rice, oil, etc. come from Pakistan. If the borders stay open, along with other facilities, it is clear that it will positively affect the prices of foodstuffs in Afghanistan.
It is noteworthy that United Nations’ Special Representative for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons had warned in November last year that Afghanistan was “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe” with nearly 60 percent of its population expected to face extreme levels of hunger.
Then Prime Minister Imran Khan on November 23, 2021, had ordered immediate shipment of in-kind humanitarian assistance of worth Rs.5bn to Afghanistan, which comprised food commodities, including 50,000 MT of wheat, emergency medical supplies, winter shelters, and other supplies besides allowing the transportation of Indian food assistance for that war-torn country through Pakistan.
While directing the ministries to extend maximum facilitation to Afghans, Imran Khan stated that it had been agreed in principle to reduce tariffs and sales tax on key Afghan exports to Pakistan. This would help support Afghanistan’s economy. Since the Taliban takeover, imports from Afghanistan to Pakistan were higher than exports from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
Besides some other countries, Pakistan on May 7, this year started dispatching consignments of emergency relief supplies to flood victims in Afghanistan via PAF aircraft. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed sorrow over the loss of lives in floods and announced emergency assistance for the Afghan people who are already facing a humanitarian and economic crisis.
Islamabad also sent basic commodities of life to Afghanistan and various goods after the destructions, caused by the recent earthquake in that country.
Both Pakistan’s ex-PM Imran Khan and present one Shehbaz Sharif asked the international community to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.
Moreover, due to the US-led West’s betrayal of the Afghan immigrants—especially the UK, which has not addressed the Afghans’ needs, as promised by them, Pakistan which has limited resources and already hosts at least 3 million Afghans is bearing the burden of these Afghans—both refugees and illegal economic migrants as well as those immigrants who traveled to Pakistan on visas, announced in 2021.
Nevertheless, we can conclude that in the post-Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Pak-Afghan trade is rapidly increasing.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is the author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org