ISLAMABAD - Pakistan announced Monday that its main Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan will remain open round the clock from next month to facilitate bilateral and transit trade activities.
Officials described the move as a “good news” for traditionally strained relations between the two countries, which share a nearly 2,600 kilometer traditionally porous border.
The decision is “one of the important outcomes of close engagement” between Islamabad and Kabul, particularly during last week’s visit to Pakistan by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, officials noted. Ghani’s two-day visit also underscored improvement in bilateral ties, they said.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country and mostly uses Pakistani land routes as well as seaports for conducting international trade. Pakistani exporters also consider the neighboring country is a major destination for their goods.
Currently, trade convoys can cross the northwestern Torkham post between sunrise and sunset, which traders say is not enough to allow hundreds of trucks ferrying and transit goods daily to Afghanistan from the Pakistani port city fo Karachi.
Political tensions have often led to closure of the border post, inflicting heavy losses on Afghan traders and prompting Kabul to look for alternative routes in recent years.
The Afghan government has recently opened air corridors for trade with India and China, and land routes through neighboring Central Asian countries. But Afghan businessmen say trade through Pakistan remains competitive due to a much shorter access to seaports.
Pakistan itself has a lot of exportable products and will be able to export them in larger quantities as the bottlenecks on the border are minimized, say traders. They also insist that Pakistani authorities shall have to put in place measures to check graft by its customs and police officials between Karachi and Torkham.
The southwestern Chaman and northwestern Ghulam Khan border posts between Pakistan and Afghanistan also serve as other major trade and transit points.
Pakistani authorities, have, in recent years tightened border controls and they are also in the process of installing a robust fence to plug informal crossings to deter smuggling and illegal movements, particularly of militants, across the frontier,
The border management effort and political tensions have led to a significant decline in bilateral trade which currently stands annually at around $1.6 billion and heavily tilted in Pakistan’s favor.