News & Views
ON Friday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani threatened Pakistan to block its transit trade with Central Asian countries via Afghan route if Islamabad did not allow India to trade with Afghanistan via Wagah border. The remarks surfaced during Ghani’s meeting with UK’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Owen Jenkins in Kabul. He said Afghanistan was not a landlocked country anymore and that Kabul could look for alternatives after Islamabad did not give consent. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, said that Pakistan did not bar any Afghan truck, and Afghan transit trade trucks were still allowed to use the Wagah border-crossing to reach India, under the Pak-Afghan transit trade agreement. However, there was no provision to allow either Indian or Afghan trucks to use the Pakistani route to carry goods from India to Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, President Ashraf Ghani is surrounded by the loyalists of former president Hamid Karzai. Despite the fact that Pakistan itself is suffering from the economic fallout of ongoing war on terror, Pakistan is the largest Muslim donor country to Afghanistan, which is reflective of Pakistan’s desire for development and peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan has, so far, spent over $385 million for the development, education and infrastructure-building in Afghanistan. Present government has added over $500 million more to this list for development in Afghanistan, as peace and prosperity of Afghanistan is an indispensable condition for peace and development in Pakistan. It is a matter of record that Pakistan rendered many sacrifices when it stood by the Afghans in Afghan Jihad against the former USSR and hosted record number of over 3 million refugees. Afghan citizens are allowed to avail medical and education facilities in Pakistan at par with the Pakistani Citizens.
Pakistan has funded different educational institutions inside Afghanistan such as Allama Iqbal Faculty of Arts-Kabul University, Sir Syed Post Graduate Faculty of Sciences-Nangarhar University, Liaquat Ali Khan Engineering University-Bulkh, Rahman Baba School-Kabul and Rahman Baba Hostel in Kabul. Pakistan has helped Afghan government in developmental projects and roads infrastructure in Afghanistan. The construction of roads include 75 kilometers Torkham-Jalalabad road, additional carriage way on Torkham-Jalalabad road, three internal roads in Jalalabad, digital radio link between Kabul and Peshawar. In addition, Pakistan has also given around 100 public transport buses and 200 trucks to the government of Afghanistan for the welfare of Afghan public. Despite all these gestures, ungrateful Afghan government accuses Pakistan of supporting the Taliban and Haqqani network, and is asking concessions for India to use land route to transport goods from India to Afghanistan, and for extending the date for repatriation of Afghan refugees.
Though the deadline for repatriation of Afghan refugees was December 31, 2015, Afghan government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had requested Pakistan to review its December 31, 2015 deadline for the repatriation of Afghan refugees from the country. On their request, it has been once again extended up to March 30, 2017. It is more than three and a half decades now that Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan, and among them there are criminals who are responsible for deteriorating law and order situation of the country. There is a widespread perception that they have become a security risk, as it is difficult to separate extremist elements who live in the disguise of refugees. It is high time that they are sent back, as nation wants them to leave the country immediately, but under pressure from international community extensions are being given.
In April 2016, President Ashraf Ghani in his address to the both houses of the Parliament had said: “There are no good and bad terrorists; all insurgents are terrorists. Pakistan must act like a responsible nation in the fight against terrorism and our stance is fully backed on an international level.” By the same token, Afghan government should also act like a responsible nation and shun this distinction. Mullah Fazlullah of Tehrik-e-Pakistan Taliban (TTP) and his thugs are ensconced in Kunar and Nuristan, and Afghan government does not arrest them despite the promises that they would be arrested and handed over to Pakistan. Reportedly, special cards were issued to them for movement without any check, and medical facilities and ration, etc., were provided to them. But when they joined IS (Daesh) and turned on their patrons, Afghan government functionaries started blaming Pakistan.
India’s objective to develop the strategically located Chabahar port of Iran along with road and rail network from Iran to Afghanistan is meant to counter China and Pakistan’s alliance in South West Asia. India is to invest $500 million on development of the Chabahar port, but the bigger questions of feasibility of logistical linkages still remain unanswered. Like Pakistan and India, Iran too is competing for the Afghan market, its share in reconstruction opportunities and outreach to Central Asia. However, the road network and rail link vital to connect Chabahar to Central Asian states are capital intensive and time-consuming projects. The question is whether India will come forward in a big way like China has done in case of CPEC? Secondly, whether Chahbahar would compete with Gwadar? It has to be mentioned that the distances from Chabahar to Kabul and Central Asian Republics would entail prohibitive costs.
The port of Gwadar will commence full operations by the end of 2016. Logistics will be transformed by CPEC as container ships that today have to make nearly 13,000 km sea voyage from Tianjin to the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Malacca and around India can be replaced by cheaper container trucks that make a mere 2,000 km road journey from Kashgar to Gwadar. The question is whether India would gain much from Chabahar port and whether its efforts to bypass Gwadar would pay dividends? In fact, the cost and freight of the shipments from India to Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asian states would be a lot more than the shipments from Gwadar to the above destinations. Thus, ultimately cost effectiveness will decide about the success of the ports, as distance from Mumbai to Chabahar is 930 nautical miles (1800 kilometre), and from Chabahar to Kabul is 1851kilometer. On the other hand, distance from Gwadar to Kabul is 450 kilometre.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.