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Afghan-Pak transit trade pact to be enforced soon

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, 2nd left, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, 3rd right, and other officials meet during

Source : Reuters
ISLAMABAD | 11 Jun 2011

Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to enforce a long-awaited transit trade deal that would help war-ravaged Afghanistan boost its economy, Pakistani government officials said on Saturday.

The announcement came during a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Islamabad, where he met civilian and military leaders in a bid to secure Islamabad’s support for his government’s reconciliation efforts with Taleban. The US-sponsored trade agreement was signed in October 2010 but could not be enforced after the two countries failed to sort out differences over bank guarantees for Afghan goods.

The United States is keen to try to wean Afghanistan off billions of dollars in foreign aid by boosting economic growth.

Pakistan’s Federal Bureau of Revenue secretary, Salman Siddiqui, said the accord was going to be implemented from Sunday.

“We will start acting on this agreement from June 12,” he said. Pakistan has long expressed its concern over smuggling into Pakistan of goods being imported by Afghanistan.

To ensure the consignments reach Afghanistan and not smuggled back to Pakistan, Pakistan sought bank guarantees from Afghan importers.

A Pakistan Commerce Ministry official said all issues had been resolved. “There is no hindrance to its implementation,” he said.

Nearly 34 percent of Afghanistan’s imported goods are transported through Pakistan, with the rest coming via Iran and Tajikistan.

Also Pakistan pledged on Saturday to help Afghanistan end a 10-year Taleban insurgency, as the US prepares to start a gradual troop withdrawal. “Our aim is to support the peace process which is Afghan-led and it is (an) Afghan process for reconciliation,” Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told a joint news conference with Karzai.

“Pakistan is ready to support whatever support they want... it is in the interest of Pakistan to have a stable, peaceful, prosperous, independent and sovereign Afghanistan.”

This summer foreign forces will hand security control in parts of Afghanistan to the national police and army, launching a nearly four-year long process that Western nations and Karzai hope will ensure the departure of all international combat troops by the end of 2014.

Washington wants Pakistan to go after the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, which operates from safe-havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area and is one of the United States’ deadliest enemies in Afghanistan.

Gilani refused to be drawn on whether the Haqqani network could be brought to the negotiating table to help end the Afghan conflict.

“We have offered whatever the Afghan government wants from the Pakistan side. We are ready to facilitate,” he told the news conference.

Gilani and Karzai chaired the first meeting of a joint commission on reconciliation and peace. The two sides vowed to continue “close cooperation, consultation and coordination,” said a joint statement.

Pakistan has often been accused of playing a “double game,” promising the United States it will go after militants while still supporting some of them, an allegation it denies.

Nevertheless it is seen as an important ally to the United States and other NATO members as they seek to pacify the Taleban. Pakistan says it is already too stretched fighting Taleban insurgents to take action against the Haqqani network.

Meanwhile, a string of attacks across Afghanistan, including one carried out by a suicide bomber, killed at least 21 people Saturday, officials said.


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