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Pakistan discussing expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

Pakistan has discussed Afghanistan joining the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure project, the Pakistani ambassador to the country said on Monday.

“Regional connectivity is an important element of our discussion with Afghan leadership and our way forward for our economic interaction with Afghanistan,” said Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s envoy to Kabul, in an interview with Reuters.

“This important project – China Pakistan Economic Corridor … provides good opportunities, good potential for providing infrastructure and energy connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan … (and) also connecting South Asia to the Central Asian region.”

CPEC is a central part of the Belt and Road Initiative, under which Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, much of it in the form of loans.

Khan said that discussions had been held with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) on this and other ways to develop the country’s economy.

“I think there has been deep interest in terms of developing economic connectivity of Afghanistan with Pakistan through CPEC and with other neighbouring countries including Iran, China, Central Asian countries.”

In recent days representatives from Pakistan, China and Russia have held meetings with IEA officials. Khan said security and economic development were the two main topics under discussion and that these countries expected to continue to consult as a group and meet with the IEA officials going forward.

Since the IEA took over Afghanistan on August 15, the country has been plunged into economic crisis as the nation’s international assistance has been largely cut off. Billions of dollars in central bank assets held abroad have also been frozen, which has put pressure on the banking system and prevented most transactions involving U.S. dollars, which Khan said was also hampering trade.

Khan said that Pakistan was also trying to work with the international community to ease international restrictions on the banking system and several executives from Pakistani financial institutions with a presence in Afghanistan had visited Kabul in recent days to see if the situation could be improved should international limits end.

The United States and other Western nations are reluctant to provide the IEA with funds until they provides assurances that they will uphold human rights, and in particular the rights of women.

Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan and hosts millions of Afghan refugees from decades of conflict, is concerned about the economic crisis hitting its neighbour. Its prime minister, Imran Khan, and other officials have urged the international community not to isolate the IEA administration, saying aid should be provided to prevent economic collapse and a wave of refugees.

Pakistan has had deep ties with the IEA and has been accused of supporting the group as it battled the U.S.-backed government in Kabul for 20 years – charges denied by Islamabad.

However, Pakistan has not yet formally recognised the IEA-led administration and Khan, the Pakistani ambassador, told Reuters that “the issues of formal recognition will come later as Pakistan is part of the international community.”

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First consignment of Afghan goods exported under IEA rule

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(Last Updated On: October 18, 2021)

Officials of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) said Monday that the first consignment of commercial goods was exported via transit routes to countries in the region and around the world since their August takeover.

Among goods exported on Monday were onions, potatoes, saffron, figs, dried fruits, and handicrafts, officials said.

“We are trying our best to grow our exports. We are trying to get our products to international markets as was done in the past.

“We coordinate with the private sector and will be ready to help,” said Mawlawi Abdullah Halil, head of Kabul customs department.

Officials also said that the IEA will work hard to strengthen economic ties with neighboring countries.

Afghanistan’s private sector welcomed Monday’s development and said that several new opportunities have emerged for businessmen compared to the past.

“Ministry of Commerce, Chamber of Commerce and Investment wanted to export Afghan products, today we exported products to Australia, India and Holland worth more than one million dollars,” said Amradin Stanikzai, an official.

Economic analysts say that if IEA works with the private sector the current crisis will be resolved soon.

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Pakistan’s Chaman border, closed for days due to fear of Afghans influx

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(Last Updated On: October 17, 2021)

A day after protesters took to the streets of Chaman in Pakistan to demand the re-opening of the border crossing into Afghanistan, scores were seen waiting by the border road on Saturday.

Hundreds of people are stranded on both sides of the Chaman border crossing that has been closed for almost two weeks now, Reuters reported.

“This border has been closed for the last 13 days. We have been sitting here for the past 13 days for it to open. We come here at 8:00 in the morning, but by 10:00 we go back, because they (officials) are saying it could not open for months. Whatever money we had earned, we have spent all of it here,” said Sami Ullah, a laborer from Baghlan province who had gone to Karachi for work.

Pakistani officials have said the border has been temporarily closed apparently due to the fear of an influx of Afghans who want to leave their homeland after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) seized power in August.

Chaman border crossing , the second-largest commercial border point with Afghanistan after the Torkham commercial town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, links with Spin Boldak in the Afghan province of Kandahar, and is used by thousands of labourers, as well as traders, from both countries on a regular basis.

On Friday, thousands of traders took to the streets of Chaman, some on horseback, demanding that the border be opened, Reuters reported.

According to reports, thousands of Afghans have been gathering near the border in their efforts to sneak into Pakistan which has already announced that it was not in a position to accept more refugees.

Already around three million Afghan refugees are already living in Pakistan, some for more than three decades, since the invasion of their country by the Russians in 1979.

Pakistan officials say they fear around a million more would enter the country if border regulations are relaxed.

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Pakistan Airlines suspends Afghan operations citing IEA interference

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(Last Updated On: October 15, 2021)

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) suspended flights to the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Thursday after what it called heavy handed interference by Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) authorities.

The suspension took place after the IEA government ordered the airline, the only international company operating regularly out of Kabul, to cut ticket prices to levels seen before the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government in August.

“We are suspending our flight operations to Kabul from today because of the heavy handedness of the authorities,” a spokesman told Reuters.

Earlier, the IEA warned PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air that their Afghan operations risked being blocked unless they agreed to cut ticket prices, which have spiralled to levels out of reach for most Afghans.

With most airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for flights to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, have been selling for as much as $2,500 on PIA, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared with $120-$150 before.

The Afghan transport ministry said in a statement prices on the route should “be adjusted to correspond with the conditions of a ticket before the victory of the Islamic Emirate” or the flights would be stopped.

It urged passengers and others to report any violations.

PIA, which runs chartered flights to Kabul rather than regular commercial services, said it had maintained the flights on “humanitarian grounds” and faced insurance premiums of as much as $400,000 per flight, Reuters reported.

“The insurance premiums on these flights are so high that it is simply impossible to operate scheduled flights to Kabul, as it is still considered a war zone by aircraft insurance companies and lessors,” the company said in a statement.

No comment was immediately available from Kam Air.

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