ISLAMABAD - Business representatives from Pakistan and Afghanistan have called on Islamabad to immediately reopen the border between the two countries, saying the closure is hurting economic and social ties and resulting in massive monetary losses and mutual trust deficit.
Pakistani authorities unilaterally closed the two main border crossings of Torkham and Chaman nearly a month ago, saying a wave of suicide bombings across the country was being plotted from Afghan territory, charges Kabul rejected.
Around 3,000 packed containers that were due to cross Torkham have been stranded in Peshawar, while 2,000 containers have been stuck near the southwestern Chaman border crossing, according to business sources.
A six-member delegation of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, or ACCI, visiting Islamabad, met with Pakistani counterparts on Monday to discuss problems and damages the border closure has caused.
“On behalf of the Afghan business community, let me affirm that we are entirely in favor of doing business with Pakistan since we share the same religion, language and culture,” Ahmad Shah Yarzada, a member of ACCI, told participants of a meeting of business leaders from the two countries in Islamabad.
Yarzada said the “abrupt” border closing is forcing his landlocked country “to look towards other countries, which are equally willing to engage in trade with Afghanistan.”
Pakistani interlocutors said they shared Afghan concerns and called on their government to reopen the border without further delay.
The dialogue was organized by the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies in partnership with the Kabul-based Women, Peace and Security organization.
A joint statement issued after the meeting said the discussion was part of an effort to “foster better understanding and cooperation” and “soothe bitter context and address the mutual trust deficit."
It said the participants also took note "with grave concern" that since June 2016, the border had been closed five times, causing millions of dollars of financial losses to business people on both sides and problems for legitimate routine crossers.
Last week, Pakistan opened the two border crossings for 48 hours to allow around 50,000 stranded Afghans with valid visas to go back to their country.
War-torn Afghanistan depends on Pakistani ports for its transit trade, which provides an economic lifeline.
Pakistani authorities are also under pressure from critics at home, including media, for closing the border, for fear such punitive actions would only damage an already uneasy relationship. Critics cite a need for both sides to resolve differences by engaging in talks.
Militants operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan have long used the nearly 2,600-kilometer, largely porous border for subversive acts on both sides.
Pakistani authorities, however, say they have lately taken steps to boost security on their side of the frontier but that the Afghan government has yet to come up with a similar response.