Days before he arrives in New Delhi for an official visit, President Ashraf Ghani on Friday warned he would close Pakistan’s transit route to Central Asia if his country’s entrepreneurs were not allowed to trade with India via the Wagah border crossing.
The remarks reflected Kabul’s growing frustration with Islamabad after the virtual collapse of a Pakistan-backed process to engage with the Afghan Taliban. Ghani has been angered by Pakistan’s failure to deliver on a commitment to bring the militants to the negotiating table.
Ghani, who is scheduled to visit India on September 14, issued the warning during a meeting with Britain’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Owen Jenkins, according to a statement from the presidential palace.
The “tit-for-tat action” was prompted by Pakistan’s persistent refusal to let Afghan traders do business with India through Wagah, he said. Afghanistan is no longer a land-locked country as it has access to multiple transit trade routes, he added. The remark was an apparent reference to the recent pact between India, Pakistan and Iran to develop a transit corridor centred round Chabahar port.
Ghani complained to Owen that Pakistan usually closes transit routes during the fruit-growing season, leading to losses of millions of dollars. On the other hand, India has agreed to exempt Afghanistan from tariffs for fruit exports and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has allowed the airlifting of fruits, he added.
Besides the blocking of trade with India, Ghani raised Pakistan’s support for terror groups involved in destabilising his country. He told the British diplomat that support for terror was a violation of good neighbourliness and international norms. “This act of the neighbour was no longer acceptable to Afghans,” he added.
Ghani, who has repeatedly called on Pakistan to crack down on terror groups involved in strikes inside Afghanistan, said the continued attacks proved terrorists enjoyed “uninterrupted support from certain quarters”.
Hinting at a diplomatic push to counter the use of terror groups for destabilising Afghanistan, he said: “I want you to convey my message to Pakistan…Pakistan has always held out promises of supporting peace in Afghanistan, but taking its vows on face value is hard. And that’s why we want the neighbour to take practical steps.”
Ghani is expected to discuss ways to increase bilateral cooperation, especially in defence and security, when he visits India next week. Afghan Army chief Gen Quadam Shah Shahim raised Kabul’s wish list for military aid, including more helicopters and spares for Russian-origin equipment, during a low-key visit to New Delhi last month.
Last year, the Modi government set aside India’s long-standing policy of not providing military equipment to Afghanistan and supplied four Mi-25 gunship helicopters. India also trains about 800 Afghan military personnel every year.
Ghani’s visit to India comes ahead of the crucial Brussels Conference on Afghanistan to be co-hosted by the European Union on October 5. Last week, Afghanistan, India and the US also announced a new trilateral dialogue to be held on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.