Joint Economic Commission: Afghanistan wants stranded containers cleared

Monday, January 16th, 2012 9:00:03 by

ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan has asked Pakistan on Monday to clear its 700 containers stranded at the country’s ports since suspension of Nato supplies, as Islamabad adopts a cautious approach apprehending that the Afghan cargo might be supply goods for the embattled international security forces.

The demand comes on the heel of reiteration of Defence Committee of the Cabinet’s decision to continue block on Nato supplies through Pakistan. Islamabad suspended supplies in November in response to Nato attack on Salala check post which killed 24 troops.

Afghanistan raised the demand at the inaugural meeting of 8th session of Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission (JEC). Co-chaired by the finance ministers of both countries, the JEC will meet for two consecutive days to finalise proposals for enhancement of bilateral trade and also review the status of regional initiatives like import of gas from Turkmenistan and electricity from Tajikistan.

The government has directed the Federal Board of Revenue Chairman to scrutinise the stuck-up containers and release only Afghanistan’s commercial cargo and not any Nato containers, said an official of the Finance Ministry.

Meanwhile, both the countries will review various options to enhance bilateral trade that remained at .5 billon during the last fiscal year, ended on June 30.

“The trade volume does not reflect the true potential that exists between both the countries,” said Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh at the inaugural session.  He said there were outstanding issues between the countries that needed to be resolved.

Shaikh said that despite signing of the historical Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement there were many issues in its implementation. The issues of insurance guarantees against commercial cargo to discourage smuggling back to Pakistan, ease at borders’ crossing and better safeguard have to be worked out yet, he added.

Shaikh said that Afghanistan has proposed to make time-bound plans to resolve all outstanding issues hindering bilateral trade.

“There will always be issues and one cannot expect that these will go away overnight,” said Afghanistan’s Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal after the inaugural session.

The JEC will also review the status of 0 million grant committed by Pakistan for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan.  Shaikh said Pakistan was committed to G-8 initiatives for Peshawar-Jalalabad expressway as well as Peshawar-Jalalabad rail link to complete Torkham-Jalalabad highway project.

Pakistan wants to establish a road link with Central Asia via Wakhan belt, a ten kilometre stretch that separates Pakistan from Tajikistan. However, Afghanistan is not in favour of this route and desires deeper dependence of Pakistan while offering alternate long but insecure routes.

Afghanistan’s Finance Minister said that Wakhan trade link was not on the agenda.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2012.

Peshawar News Sources -2

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