In what appears to be a major policy shift, Pakistan has decided to open its land routes for transit trade under an international agreement.
Signed in December in the Indonesian city of Bali under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the agreement calls for all countries to provide such transit for promoting regional trade.
After enforcement of the agreement, possibly by July this year, Pakistan and India would also not be able to prevent traders from using their land route for sending products to other countries.
Some people, especially those who will be responsible for creating infrastructure at the border or maintaining highways, say the agreement may put additional burden on the country’s resources.
But Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan insists that the agreement will be beneficial to Pakistan because it will ensure transit facilities for Pakistani goods through India to Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. “We will also get market access to neighbouring countries,” he told a private TV channel. Although extremely beneficial to traders who may use Indian land to export and import goods to and from countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal, it is not clear to what extent this facility will boost trade through that route.
Currently, Pakistan allows land route to Afghanistan for its exports to India, but the same facility is not available to the latter.
“Transit trade between India and Afghanistan through Pakistan is our major red line,” a senior government official told. After acceding to the agreement, Islamabad has lost freedom to exercise its discretion, he added.
The agreement has also bound member countries to develop infrastructure on borders out of their own resources. The agreement says members are encouraged to make available, where practicable, physically separate infrastructure such as lanes, berths and similar for traffic in transit.