Imran Khan inaugurates 24/7 Pak-Afghan border crossing to boost trade

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A view of the Pak-Afghan Torkham border, where Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated a 24/7 border post on Wednesday, in a bid to boost trade. September 18, 2019. (Photo AN)
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Flanked by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (left), Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurates the round-the-clock opening of the Pak-Afghan Integrated Transit Trade Management System at Torkham border on Wednesday (September 18, 2019). Photo PTI media
Updated 18 September 2019

Imran Khan inaugurates 24/7 Pak-Afghan border crossing to boost trade

  • Trade with Afghanistan was $1.5 billion in 2016 but remained less than $1 billion during the current fiscal year
  • Anyone trying to wage holy war in Kashmir will “be an enemy of Pakistan,” Khan says

PESHAWAR: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday that opening the vital Pak-Afghan Torkham border round-the-clock will considerably bolster trade between Kabul and Islamabad and boost regional commerce activities.
Torkham is located along the 2,500 km international border that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan and serves as a major transportation and shipping site, through which about 10,000 people cross daily. PM Khan, along with senior Afghan officials formally inaugurated the border post on Wednesday, though the expanded hours took effect earlier this month on a trial basis.
“This is a historic day. Trade with Afghanistan jumped by 50 percent during the trial period of the 24/7 border opening,” Khan told a press conference after inaugurating the Integrated Transit Trade Management System at the border. The move comes just days after Pakistan summoned an Afghan diplomat to account for militants from Afghanistan firing on Pakistani troops at the border, resulting in four deaths.
Flanked by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, PM Khan said the 24/7 opening of the important border crossing would multiply trade and employment opportunities for the entire region.
Afghan-Pakistani trade was worth $1.5 billion in 2016, with Pakistan shipments accounting for 80% of it, according to data compiled by the World Bank, UN, and the World Trade Organization. 
Earlier, Faiz Muhammad, President of Peshawar’s Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, had told Arab News that bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan had remained under a billion dollars during the current fiscal year.
“People’s lives will be changed and Peshawar will turn into a regional hub of business…and this will generate more employment opportunities,” Khan said, referring to the northwestern Pakistani city that is the capital of KP province.
Khan also said the entire region would transform once peace was restored in Afghanistan and said he hoped business activities would reach as far as Central Asia.
“It would be a huge tragedy if US-Taliban talks could not move forward,” he said, adding that he would meet US President Donald Trump on Monday during the UN General Assembly Session in New York and insist the two countries resume the stalled dialogue.
“First, the resumption of peace talks is of paramount importance for Afghanistan and for….Pakistan. We will try utmost to jump-start the talks,” he said. 
However, he ruled out any chance of direct talks with neighboring India until New Delhi revoked curfew-like conditions in Kashmir. 
“Let me promise you that I will present the Kashmir case in the General Assembly with full vigor on Monday,” he said but added Pakistan did not support any extremist actions in Kashmir.
“If one thinks to go to Kashmir for the purpose of Jihad (Islamic concept of holy war), it will be a great disservice to Kashmiris. Anyone who takes an extreme step will be the enemy of Pakistan as well as Kashmiris,” he said.


India delays signing Kartarpur corridor deal with Pakistan

Updated 22 October 2019

India delays signing Kartarpur corridor deal with Pakistan

  • Border crossing will give pilgrims visa-free access to holy Sikh shrine
  • Former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh expected to attend the inaugural ceremony

NEW DELHI, LAHORE: India has postponed signing a deal that will allow Sikhs to visit a holy shrine in neighboring Pakistan without a visa, a Foreign Ministry official in New Delhi was reported as saying.
The Kartarpur Corridor connects the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, in India’s Punjab region, to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan.
The visa-free border crossing will be inaugurated next month, days ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder.
Media reports said that the signing of the deal had been pushed back by a day to Oct. 24 and that C L Das, an official handling internal security at India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, would meet Pakistan officials along the border to sign the agreement.
The corridor is a rare example of cooperation and diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February following a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Ties nose-dived further in August when India flooded its portion of the disputed valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.
But finalizing the corridor project has proved tricky.
Earlier this week, India’s External Affairs Ministry said it was disappointed by Pakistan’s decision to levy a $20 service fee per pilgrim.
“It is a matter of disappointment that while understanding has been reached on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continue to insist on levying a service fee," said the ministry. "Government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee. While agreeing to sign the agreement, the government of Pakistan has been once again urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time.”
The connecting bridge at the border was also a significant issue. India favored an elevated bridge but Pakistan was only willing to build an embankment, fearing a possible breach in security.
New Delhi said all the infrastructure was in place in time for the project’s inauguration, which is expected to be attended by former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Islamabad has also invited Singh to be part of the inaugural ceremony but he has yet to accept. Despite the bumps in the road Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was upbeat about the unveiling.
“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” he posted on Facebook. “World’s largest gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”
Although the opening of the corridor is unlikely to lead to any kind of bilateral engagement or rapprochement between the two nations, Sikhs will be relieved that it is easier to access the shrine in Kartarpur.
The community has long sought easier access to Kartarpur, a village just four kilometers over the border in Pakistan, as it used to demand a lengthy visa and travel process.
Pilgrims will get special permits to access the shrine. Up to 5,000 pilgrims will be allowed to access the corridor daily.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor, but it is unclear if he will cross into Pakistan afterwards.