The Pakistani government’s decision to seal its international border with Afghanistan on February 16 due to security issues, has proved to be detrimental to both countries’ economies, states Dawn newspaper.
According to al-Jazeera, after a series of devastating terrorist attacks that occurred in Pakistan in mid-February, the government resolved to shut down two of its major crossings on the border with Afghanistan, the Torkham and Chaman crossings. This decision arose from Pakistan’s belief that the violence was carried out by Tehreek-e-Taliban, an anti-state terrorist organization with strong ties to the Afghan Taliban.
The 1.5-mile border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Durand Line, has served as a point of contention between the two countries throughout their history. As reported by Dawn, each country has consistently accused the other of harboring militants and sponsoring terrorism beyond its own borders. However, both Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to deny all charges. The tenuous border relations reached a breaking point with the attack on the Sufi shrine in Sehwan, Pakistan, after which the decision to seal the border was taken.
Although the Pakistani government enacted the closure on February 16, it conceded to open the border temporarily on March 7 and 8. They took this measure, says al-Jazeera, in order to ensure the safe return of Afghan or Pakistani nationals with valid visas, who had travelled across the border for business or medical purposes.
Both Dawn and al-Jazeera state that many officials in both countries argued against the closure. The border acts as one of the most lucrative trade crossings in South Asia, despite the security problems. The Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, believes that shutting the border serves no purpose. Rather, it puts both countries at an economic disadvantage. The closure has resulted in the loss of trade worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; significant amounts of perishable goods have rotted in trucks that have been stopped at the border.
Zia-ul-Haq Sarhadi, Vice President of the Afghanistan/Pakistan Joint Chamber of Commerce, told Dawn, “Afghanistan depends on Pakistan for everything from needles to helicopters.”
In response to the recent diminution of supplies, prices in Kabul soared. For Afghanistan, the transit through Pakistan into Karachi is crucial for export of goods to international markets. Cross-border trade is also necessary in order to transport supplies to NATO troops still stationed in Afghanistan.
It has only been one month since the closure, and trade between the two countries has already been reduced by half a billion dollars. In spite of this, Pakistan has not declared when, or even if, the border will re-open. Both countries have provided each other with a list of security demands that must be met before trade resumes. If Afghanistan and Pakistan do not make concessions toward regional cooperation, businesses in both countries will suffer drastically.