PAK-AFGHAN ECONOMIC RELATIONS

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, Islamabad
May 05 - 18, 2003 

The two-day official visit to Pakistan by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, during the last week and his indepth talks at the highest level will go a long way in improving the relations between the two neighbouring countries. It is abundantly clear from the newspaper reports as well as the joint communique about Karzai detailed discussion with President Musharraf and the agreements reached at the high level meeting between the Afghan President and Prime Minister Mr. Zafarullah Jamali.

It was at these meetings that they formally agreed to expand and further strengthen mutual relations in a widening field, encompassing trade, industry, banking, commerce and culture. As for the overall outcome of his visit, a fair idea of it may be had from some of the remarks the Afghan President made at a joint press conference he addressed with Prime Minister Jamali and on other occasions. Reference, in this regard, may specifically be made to the firm hope he expressed about going back home with much a higher degree of relationship with Pakistan in his hand for the people of Afghanistan. Again, the Afghan President's reiteration of his country's support to UN resolution on Kashmir, along with reaffirmation of the two countries commitment to fight terrorism should be reassuring as identity of views and approach on issues vital to the security of our region.

Addressing at the banquet, he hosted in honour of Hamid Karzai, President Pervez Musharraf said Pakistan desired the establishment of durable peace in Afghanistan, and would not allow its territory to be used in any way which is detrimental to the achievement of this objective.

PAKISTAN'S ASSISTANCE

"We are fully committed to assist Afghanistan in whatever way we can. We have a strong desire to see the return of peace and stability to Afghanistan", the President said, adding that no vested interests should spread misinformation on this matter and emphasised that Pakistan would remove all obstacles in the way of harmony between the two countries.

Pakistan, the President said, has already offered assistance in various fields including road construction, telecommunications, postal services, media development and power generation etc. "We have also offered to train officers from the Afghan Army, Police and Foreign Office. We want to extend assistance which is needed and identified by Your Excellency's government".

The President said Afghanistan is located vitally vis-a-vis utilisation of central Asian energy resources. He assured the Afghan leader Pakistan would not lag behind in reconstruction efforts in his country. He said the roads between Tokham and Jalalabad and Spin Boldak and Kandahar will be completed in time by 2004. President Musharraf said Pakistan's ports of Karachi and Gwadar would be available to Afghanistan much as to Pakistan.

Referring to the recently signed tripartite agreement for the Turkemanistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline, he said this is a multibillion dollar project which will provide a major boost not only to the economies of these countries but the whole region and will also help in general numerous employment opportunities. "Such projects can play a major part in the return of peace and stability to Afghanistan by generating jobs for the people", he added.

SAFETY & SECURITY

Addressing a joint press conference with Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Karzai played down recent clashes along the Pakistani border as well as talk of a rift over support for Taliban members, and vowed that ties between the two nations remains close. "Pakistan is a brother of ours and as a brother Pakistan would do all to help Afghanistan attain the best levels of safety and security. "That sort of assurance I have from the government of Pakistan", he said.

Karzai said he had discussed expanding trade, airline, business and cultural links between the two countries, as well as some issues he could not mention. He said Afghanistan would soon release hundreds of Pakistani prisoners captured fighting alongside the Taliban in late 2001. The process had been held up after an initial batch of 135 were released this year, when about 15 of them vowed to return to Afghanistan and fight against the government. But vetting of the remaining prisoners would begin soon. "All of the prisoners will be released and the process has already begun," he said.

Pakistan offered Afghanistan for establishing a free industrial zone near Torkhum and Chaman border for the manufacture of different items which will trigger economic development in Afghanistan. The establishing of industrial zone will also entice Pakistani entrepreneurs to set up industries in textile, pharmaceuticals, leather, carpet and in other related fields.

Pakistan Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz made this offer during a joint meeting of Pakistan and Afghan Ministers here at Finance Ministry.

During the meeting Afghanistan government identified about 200 projects and invited private sector to invest in these projects, which includes construction, food sector, pharma industry, communication and social infrastructure