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Monday, 30 October 2017

India starts trade route to Afghanistan via Iran, bypassing Pakistan

Indian official says Pakistan is making unilateral decisions on APTTA
Indian official says Pakistan is making unilateral decisions on APTTA

Following its rejection of Pakistan’s offer for talks on transit trade to Afghanistan, India on Sunday shipped its first consignment to the war-torn country by sea through Iran’s strategic Chahbahar Port, launching a trade route bypassing Pakistan.
India Minister for External Affair Sushma Swaraj said that the shipment marked the convergence among India, Afghanistan, and Iran to spur an unhindered flow of commerce and trade throughout the region. On the other hand, a ministry official told The Hindu that the offer made by Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa—during his Afghanistan visit in October—“wasn’t a real offer, as far as India sees it”.
Earlier, during discussions on the renewal of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) that lapsed in 2015, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani had expressed concerns that trade with India over the Wagah border had been blocked by Pakistan, despite being agreed to it in the APTTA, Pakistan Today reported.
“At this, the General Bajwa offered to talk about the transit trade issues with Indian officials,” said a diplomat privy to the talks, adding that General Bajwa reportedly said, “Ask the Indian side to speak to us and we will try and sort it out.”
President Ghani is understood to have conveyed the conversation to New Delhi through the Indian Embassy in Kabul. However, days later, Indian officials at the SCO Afghanistan-Contact group meeting in Moscow, told the Afghan delegation that it would not take up the offer for talks.
“The APTTA is a bilateral agreement. It is not working because of unilateral decisions by Pakistan not to honour it. So how can India-Pakistan talks fix that?” he said.
Pakistan refused to allow any Indian goods to travel overland Afghanistan, insisting that India use the sea-route via Karachi. Exasperated by Pakistan’s refusal to allow the truck trade, President Ghani had repeatedly warned that he would cut off Pakistan’s access to Central Asia, and subsequently issued a decree cancelling permission for Pakistani trucks to transit through Afghanistan.
In the context of the current trade scenario, India and Afghanistan had been working on strengthening alternative routes, including the air cargo corridor launched in June this year, and the Chabahar sea route. As Chabahar will take at least another year to fully function, India shipped its first wheat shipment using Kandla seaport on Sunday, which will be taken by trucks to Afghanistan from the Iranian port.
The new trade route follows an air freight corridor introduced between India and Afghanistan in June last year to provide greater access for Afghan goods to the Indian market. In his new Afghanistan strategy unveiled in August, United States President Donald Trump asked India to do more to help Afghanistan’s development.

Additionally, even though General Bajwa’s offer was only made orally, and not followed up with a direct offer to India, it was considered significant for a number of reasons. To begin with, the offer was made by the Pakistan army chief, considered to have a stronger mandate to implement such an offer than his civilian counterparts.

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