Pakistan has opened five key routes with Afghanistan for bilateral and transit trade over the past weeks and also announced to open Wagah Border Crossing with India from Wednesday for Afghan exports to help war-ravaged Afghanistan Boost Trade.

Pakistan had closed all trade routes with Afghanistan in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the country has now reopened Torkham in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Chaman in southwest Balochistan province, two major crossings with Afghanistan, for both the bilateral trade and the Afghan transit trade.

These border crossings are now operationalised for 24 hours a day and six days a week to facilitate cross-border trade, which has been affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic in both countries.

Besides the two major routes, Pakistan has also opened three other routes with Afghanistan including Ghulam Khan in North Waziristan tribal district, Angor Adda in South Waziristan tribal district and Kharlachi in Kurram tribal district.

Mushahid Hussain Syed, Chairman of the Pakistani Senate’s standing committee on foreign affairs, told Xinhua on Tuesday that Pakistan’s decisions to open routes for Afghan trade are “positive” and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the China-proposed Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) can greatly enhance regional connectivity and “link Pakistan with Central Asia via Afghanistan.”

During the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue held in Islamabad in September 2019, the three sides agreed that trilateral cooperation should be pushed forward under the BRI and the three sides are willing to enhance connectivity by extending CPEC to Afghanistan.

Pakistan has already allowed Afghan traders to use the Gwadar port, operated by a Chinese company, in Balochistan for imports and exports. Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan had signed a transit trade agreement in 1965 that was revised in 2010, which calls for better facilitation in the movement of goods between the two countries.

“Since January 2020, Afghan trade is utilising the Gwadar port which is the centrepiece of CPEC, for transporting to Afghanistan which is a shorter route than the Karachi port,” Syed said.

Pakistan announced in October last year to open the Gwadar port for the Afghan transit trade as the trade related infrastructure at the port was already to handle bulk cargoes to and from Afghanistan. The first ship carrying containers for Afghan transit trade arrived at the Gwadar port on Jan. 14, 2020.

Earlier in April, Pakistan announced to allow import of the Afghan bulk cargo of wheat, sugar and fertilisers at the Gwadar port and onward transit to Afghanistan in saleable trucks, instead of being limited to containers, which will greatly cut the cost of the traders to further facilitate the Afghan transit trade.

Encouraged by the favourable policy, a cargo ship, carrying about 16,000 tonnes of urea for transit to Afghanistan arrived at the Gwadar Port in May. “This will certainly have a positive impact on Afghanistan-Pak trade and transit ties.

We must extend support to each other for revival of commerce and connectivity in Central and South Asia that will surely benefit people in the region,” Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Atif Mashal said while lauding the progress.

Experts from eight countries at a video conference convened by a Pakistani think tank, the Pakistan-China Institute last week said that the BRI is the way forward by promoting regional connectivity.

The participants highlighted that by providing connectivity, the initiative has made landlocked countries like Afghanistan and Nepal to be land-linked and be able to access a greater market.

Traders in Pakistan and Afghanistan welcomed reopening of the routes and hoped the decision will help in resumption of routine trade activities in the two countries and the region.

Afghan importers said that their large number of containers loaded with goods had stuck at the Karachi port due to closure of the borer points between Pakistan and Afghanistan, causing them demurrage and detention charges. But most of the stuck containers have been cleared and left the ports, according to the traders.