Pakistan closes Durand Line, causes $90 mn trade loss for Afghanistan

The “unilateral” blocking of the Durand Line by Pakistan choked off trade and caused damages of up to $90 million, Kabul complained to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last week.

“The measures taken by the government of Pakistan at the entry points at the Durand line, border with Afghanistan, were tantamount to a total ban of trade between the two countries,” Dr Suraya Dalil, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN office at Geneva told the WTO Council for Trade in Goods on 6 April.

 Pakistan closes Durand Line, causes  mn trade loss for Afghanistan

Representational images. Reuters

“…Afghan exporters were prevented from shipping any goods to Pakistan destined to be released for consumption in that country.”

“Similarly, they (Afghan exporters) could not export any goods to other countries which, in order to reach their destination, have to transit the territory of Pakistan,” Dalil said.

Imports to Afghanistan from Pakistan and other countries were also blocked.

Pakistan closed the border between the two countries from 17 February this year after a surge of terrorist attacks on its soil claiming that terrorists use Afghani soil against Pakistan. Though they had initially announced that the decision to close the entry points to the Durand Line was indefinite, the border re-opened on 21 March.

The Afghan diplomat described the consequences of closing the Durand Line as “huge”.

“The total value of exports from Afghanistan banned due to blockage of the entry points at the Durand Line was estimated at $ 6 million.”

“Based on the report of Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI), Afghan traders have surfed a total loss of $ 80-90 million, paying demerge fees as well as damage of perishable goods,” she said.

In 2015-2016 the total import value from Pakistan to Afghanistan was $876 million and total export value from Afghanistan to Pakistan was $235 million. In the same year, about 3,400 trucks have taken transit goods from Afghanistan through Pakistan to other countries.

According to Kabul, in about a week’s time of the closing of the borders about 2,434 trucks were stopped on both sides of the entry points at the Durand Line. Additionally, about 308 trucks that would transit through Pakistan to a third country were stopped as well.

“It took around 11 days to go back to a normal clearance of goods, but there are still many unjustifiable measures that exist for Afghanistan’s trucks to transit through Pakistan,” the Afghan envoy complained.

Currently, there is no land route for trade between Afghanistan and India through Pakistan though there is a signed Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (also known as APTTA) that permits Afghanistan trucks access to Wagah border with India— where Afghan goods will be offloaded onto Indian trucks— but does not permit Indian goods to be loaded onto trucks for transit back to Afghanistan.

However, in practice, this agreement is not always followed.

Last year, President Ashraf Ghani had threatened to close Pakistan’s transit route to Central Asian countries if it does not allow Afghan traders to trade with India via the Wagah border.

“Moreover, closing the entry points at the Durand line had adverse effects on the entire economy and population of Afghanistan. After a few days, shortages occurred of basic goods, pushing their prices to levels where many Afghans cannot afford them,” Dalil told the trade council.

Kabul told the WTO that Afghanistan is a Least Developed Country, and also a landlocked country, and needs to participate in international trade for its development—access to markets of other countries and freedom of transit through the territory of neighbouring countries, in particular, those having access to the sea, are crucial conditions for being able to engage in international trade. Currently, it is being prevented by Pakistan from doing so.

Pakistan has violated at least three provisions under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 by closing the Durand Line.

Securing the right of Kabul to participate in international trade “has been one of the main concerns that motivated Afghanistan’s decision to join WTO” and it “hopes” that Pakistan henceforth honours its obligations as a WTO member state.

The relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan has come under significant strain amidst increasing tensions on its western border. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai in a tweet had said that Pakistan has "no legal authority to dictate terms on the Durand Line".

"While we wish freedom for the people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) from Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) and other repressive measures, we remind the Government of Pakistan that Afghanistan hasn't and will not recognise the Durand line," Karzai added in his tweet after Islamabad closed the Durand Line.

Omar Zakhilwalal, former Afghan finance minister and current ambassador to Pakistan, said in a Facebook post that the argument that the border closure is intended to stop terrorists from crossing over does not hold water because “these points such as Torkham and Spin Boldak have been manned by hundreds of military and other security personnel”.

“Continuous unreasonable closure of legal Pak-Afghan trade and transit routes cannot have any other explanation except to be aimed at hurting the common Afghan people," he added.

The Durand Line is the 2640-kilometre-long international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan established in 1893, which has been the subject of much historical dispute between the two neighbours.

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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2017 20:27:05 IST