By Asad Ali
Pakistan and Afghanistan are strategically two important states. Both countries are neighbours and has been supporting each other politically, economically and militarily. Culturally speaking, both countries have rich cultural bonding as well. Pakistan regards Afghanistan as brotherly states and always comes first when it comes to helping Afghan people and government in difficult situation. Apart from Afghanistan, Pakistan, since its inception in 1947, has been actively following the policy of having strong strategic, political and economic ties with Muslim states. This is major pillar of Pakistan’s foreign policy, which is being expanded with every passing day. It is pertinent to mention here that having strong ties with foreign states specially Muslims countries, is also written in Article 40 of Pakistan’s constitution.
Be it Afghanistan or any other states, Pakistan is committed to help its Muslims brothers. Afghanistan is practical demonstration of Pakistan’s pivot for Muslim states. Since the fall of Kabul, Pakistan has been trying its best to help Afghan brethren by providing essentials food items and other economic and political support. Despite having dwindling economic situation at home, Pakistan is immensely supporting Afghanistan. Right now, when Afghanistan is also struggling economically due to ban on foreign aid, Pakistan is acting as fulcrum of regional connectivity and increasing its bilateral trade with Afghanistan.
To further enhance Pak-Afghan bilateral trade, recent both countries have reached an agreement to facilitate bilateral trade and mitigate difficulties, which are being faced by both states right now in order to meet economic targets. In this regard, Pakistan is mulling to open more trade check posts between two countries. Pakistan has also decided to facilitate coal trade between two countries via Kharlachi and Ghulam Khan posts in KP. Pakistan to relax clearance rules for Afghan trucks and goods in future for smooth delivery of goods. Pakistan will also support early loading and unloading of goods at board, with increase timing of clearance. In addition to this, Pakistan’s government has approved Multi Air Road Corridor to further facilitate transit of Afghan good through Pakistan.
Likewise, both countries have agreed on a landmark point to make commercial payments in local currency, which will strengthen local currency values of both countries. This is huge development to boost both countries’ economies. As per the new initiative, both countries will make payments in local currency for one year through banking channels. This was the demand of traders from both sides. Similarly, luxury busses will also connect both countries which will further connect people with their loved ones.
Regarding visa restrictions, Pakistan has decided to facilitate Afghan traders by issuing them one-year multiple entry visa. This step will encourage Afghani traders to expand trade activities with Pakistani counterparts without having visa restrictions. The step will further promote ease of doing business as drivers will be able to apply for online Pakistani visa. In addition to this, Pakistan has spent approximately 1 billion dollars on various, economic and social projects to help vulnerable Afghani people and new government of Taliban. In medical sector, Pakistani government has approved funding of running operations to build hospitals in Afghanistan for poor people, upgradation of hospital, and payment of salaries to health staffs. This is part of Pakistan’s humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan’s context, Pakistan has been proactively urging international community not to abandon Afghan people in this difficult situation. Pakistan asked international community to engage with Taliban leaders in Kabul and discuss the differences with them. Pakistan is emphasizing on holding direct talks with Taliban on human rights and issue of women education. Similarly, at the economic front, Pakistan is pitching for unfreezing of Afghan assets to meet the economic needs of the country. At international fronts, Pakistan asked world leaders/ organizations not to use sanctions as a tool to pressurize Afghan leaders as it will further create political and economic instability.
Likewise, Pak-Afghan trade is a potential source for creation of livelihood for thousands of Afghans and will help usher an era of progress, development and prosperity in both brotherly Muslim states. The bilateral trade of both countries will not only strengthen economic conditions on both sides, but also bring people closer and eradicate misunderstandings. This move will also promote soft-image of Pakistan among Afghan masses. In a nutshell, Pak-Afghan bilateral cooperation will further enhance bilateral economic, political, social and strategic ties of both states besides promising prosperity in the region.
The US faces a complex situation in South Asia, and in its bilateral relationship with Pakistan. The US government has a long-standing record of investment in Pakistan in return for cooperation on terrorism, but this has yielded limited dividends given Pakistan’s own regional security interests. At the same time, Pakistan must tread carefully with its long-time Taliban allies back in power in Kabul. Pitfalls lie ahead for Pakistan’s domestic security and its foreign relations. The Pakistani government should also encourage Afghanistan’s new authorities down the path of compromise with international demands regarding rights and counter-terrorism as it will strengthen cooperation between two states in future.
The writer is Islamabad based expert of strategic affairs.