The ATT agreement is being
renegotiated with the Afghan trade mission in Islamabad
From Shamim Ahmed
Nov 29 - Dec 05, 1999
The UN imposed sanctions on Kabul will directly hit Pakistan's economy
as it may lead to fresh influx of refugees and increase in the smuggling across the border
causing loss of revenues to already weak revenue base of Pakistan. Within Afghanistan, the
already hard pressed common man will be further burdened with economic miseries and left
with no other occupation but the cultivation of poppy and drug manufacturing.
As an immediate consequence, during the very first week the sanctions,
the Frontier province, adjoining Afghanistan, experienced acute shortage of wheat flour.
Wheat/Atta rationing had to be imposed for a few days unless emergency supplies of 10,000
tonnes from Punjab start arriving in the Province. The only cause of this sudden shortage
of the wheat flour was the large scale purchases by the smugglers maphia from the local
markets for onward transportation to Afghanistan where the price of flour is Rs. 17 to 18
per Kg as against Rs. 8 to 9 in Pakistan including N.W.F.P. This applies to other consumer
items as well.
Reacting quickly, the Iranian government formally reopened Afghanistan
Border with Iran at Doghuran Islamqala for trade purposes after remaining closed for
more than one year. The timely division intended to kill many birds with one stone.
Firstly it will curb smuggling on Afghanistan-Iran border and through opening of formal
trade channel Iran and its trading community will also benefit. Second reason for this
decision is that Iran might be afraid that if there was shortage of food in Afghanistan
there will be more Afghan refugees in Iran. Most important consideration behind this
decision is Iran's desire to mend its relations with Talibans and end the bitterness and
tension between the countries. Iran has been highly successful in their objective is
proved by loud and over-wherlming welcome of Iranian gesture of goodwill at this critical
moment" by general public and Taliban leadership. Sunday, November 21 when this
decision was announced by Iran, it also rained heavily in Afghanistan after a long dry
spell brightening the hope of a bumber poppy crop and the Afghans really celebrated the
day saying that "Allah has showered His blessings on us when the US and its allies
had decided to punish us through economic sanctions.
The United Nations have slapped trade and financial sanctions on
Afghanistan on November, 15, 1999 following its refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to
the United States. Ignoring last-minute Pleas by the ruling Taliban for a temporary
postponement of the imposition of sanctions, the United Nations went ahead and slapped
punitive measures on Afghanistan, demanding the arrest and handing over of Osama bin
Laden. The Security Council did not formally meet to consider the request of the Taliban
and the sanctions went into effect at the stroke of midnight.
Under the terms of the world body, all overseas assets of the Taliban
would be frozen and a blanket ban imposed on flights owned, operated or leased by the
Ariana Afghan Airlines landing or taking off. Humanitarian assistance and flights for the
pilgrimage to Makkah would be exempted.
The UN sanctions on Afghanistan, are limited but crippling. The only
Afghan airlines, Ariana, will be unable to do business anywhere in the world. The
country's assets abroad have also been frozen as the one-month deadline given in the UN
Security Council resolution of October 15 lapsed without the Taliban turning in Osama bin
Laden. Though backed by the world community, such sanctions have no way of distinguishing
those whose actions warrant retribution of some kind, from targeting the people who may
already be the worst sufferers of poor governance. Iraq is a recent outstanding example.
An indefinite embargo on Ariana airlines, for instance, will hurt the ordinary
Afghansespecially those working in the Gulf and elsewhere more than either
the ruling and resourceful Taliban or other war-hardened militias. Then the rationale of
sanctions, so publicly US-instigated, narrows down to one person who is yet to be found
quilty of the crimes he is accused of. Aid and relief programmes for Afghanistan, already
a contentious issue on grounds of human rights and the Taliban's uniquely orthodox laws,
will also suffer as mistrust between Afghans and western agencies deepens.
As in any other issue involving Afghanistan, Pakistan will increasingly
be the sharp focus of world attention in the post sanctions period. Over the past month
the new administration has tightened border surveillance, primarily to check wheat-flour
smuggling. But the religo-cultural proximity across the Durand Line underwritten by
historical trade links and reinforced during the Afghan war of the 1980s, makes it almost
impossible to fully plug our northwestern borders, especially now when our landlocked
neighbour has become even more dependent on the facilities available in Pakistan.
As a consequence of sanctions, the poppy cultivation would increase in
Afghanistan so would the production of the opium. This would have a serious fallout on
Pakistan and neighbouring countries especially Iran, which is a key transit route for drug
trafficking from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe and oil-rich Gulf Arab states.
Evidently, this would affect the Gulf region in which there is a thriving banking
Pakistan is suffering heavy losses of revenues because of massive
smuggling of all types of goods under the cover of Afghanistan Transit Trade (ATT). The
large scale smuggling of foreign goods worth billions of rupees into Pakistan has
continued unabated down the years, causing incalculable loss to the national exchequer and
leaving disastrous effect on overall national economy. Most of the smuggling is being done
through Pak-Afghan border, the FATA areas dominated by influential Maliks and the vastly
stretched porous mountainous routes. The foreign goods thus smuggled, apart from being
sold in sprawling markets in the Tribal Areas find their way to what have come to be known
as Bara Markets which have mushroomed in almost all big cities in the country.
In its proposals, sent to the federal government the Chamber of
Commerce and Industry, Karachi, is reported to have laid specific stress on the need of
eliminating the menace of widespread smuggling. Evidently, the cause of concern for
country's premier trade chamber is the massive inflow of a widening range of consumer
goods from the world over and to the increasing detriment of the domestic industry.
The ATT is being renegotiated and an Afghan trade mission is in
Islamabad these days. The Pakistan must ensure that all those items which are not used by
Afghan people these days like Air Conditioners, Refrigerators, Deep Freezer, Colour TVs,
and other modern electronics goods, perfumes cosmetics. Fine clothing should not be
allowed to be imported under ATT, because these items never cross the border and are sold
in Pakistan. The poor people of Afghanistan do not need luxury goods. What they need is
wheat, rice, Dals and Ghee. Only imports of such items should be allowed under ATT. We can
thus help our Afghan brothers without causing losses to public exchequer and crippling our