Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Opening up Afghanistan’s trade routes
The United States is pressing Pakistan to allow Afghan agriculture products to pass through its territory to India, the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a trip to the war-torn country this week. Opening India’s huge and exploding market to Afghan farmers sounds like a perfectly logical thing to do. Their produce of dried fruits, nuts and pomegranates long made its way to India before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, immortalised in Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s classic story for children, Kabuliwallah.
Reviving that trade from landlocked Afghanistan may well turn farmers decisively away from poppy cultivation, the United States hopes. It would also make agriculture, on which an estimated 80 percent of the population depends, more worthwhile and make them less vulnerable to the Taliban.
But this exactly the sort of thing that stirs anxiety in Pakistan. India’s growing presence in Afghanistan since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001 has, after Kashmir, become the single biggest sore point in Pakistan. Islamabad fears that New Delhi’s vast Afghan aid programme, close ties with President Hamid Karzai’s government and its expanded diplomatic presence is part of a policy of strategic encirclement. It is, in some ways, the coming together of its worst fears.
Despite the U.S. pressure, Pakistan has made clear it won’t accept such a transit agreement, The Nation newspaper reported late last month, describing it as a step to restore “some semblance of sovereignty”. Pakistani businessmen are also opposed to granting such rights to India, believing Indian goods will flood the Afghan market and eat into their share, the News said.
But can America be stopped ? As columnist Trudy Tubin points out, the Obama administration regards agriculture as its top non-security priority in Afghanistan. “Restoring the country’s once-vibrant agricultural sector would create jobs that undercut Taliban recruitment. It would give farmers an alternative to growing opium poppies and shrink the Taliban’s profit from the drug trade.”