Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Opening up Afghanistan’s trade routes

January 15, 2010
Afghan seller at the World Pomegranate Fair in Kabul. Pic by Reuters/Omar Sobhani

Afghan seller at the World Pomegranate Fair in Kabul. Pic by Reuters/Omar Sobhani

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.”

 

Comments

As long as Pakistan remains stuck in a zero sum mindset, where any advantage to India to seen as a setback to Pakistan, there will not be agreement between the two countries on Afghanistan.

Posted by Mekeritrig | Report as abusive
 

Pakistan’s concerns are real. Even if we allow trucks to go through Pakistan to India, I wonder how many of them will be allowed through at their check points. There will always be a fear of bombs placed inside the fruit bags.

If China begins to increase its activities inside Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma I am sure Indians will be as concerned as we Pakistanis are about India’s encirclement.

 

I thought Afghan produce was allowed to pass through Pakistan to Indian, but Pakistan will not allow Indian goods to pass through to Afghanistan.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive
 

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.

Huh? Pakistan had control over Afghanistan during the 1990s with their support for the Taliban regime in Kabul. Did Pakistani busnessmen make any money during this time.

If India is the best market for Afghan goods, then the Afghan people can (and will) sell them to India. If Pakistan can offer a better price let then make a bid.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive
 

It would be far better for Afghanistan to export air freight its pomegranates,grapes and mellons directly to the European markets,instead of shipping it to India. The Pakistan Govt. should assist Afghanistan in this venture. India is already exporting its pomegranates and grapes to Europe. We in Europe do not need a middle man between the exporter and the importer.

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive
 

A very limited amount of Afghan goods is allowed to go through Wagah into India, but what the Americans and Afghans are pushing for is a substantial step-up in such a movement of goods.

Posted by Sanjeev Miglani | Report as abusive
 

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