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Pakistan, Afghan Ministers Discuss Trade Route From India

Pakistani and Afghan officials have met in Islamabad to discuss a possible agreement to facilitate Afghan trade with India, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

The meeting between Pakistani Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and his Afghan counterpart, Hazrat Omar Zakhelwal, was held during Zakhelwal's two-day visit to the Pakistani capital.

Afghanistan says that a clause in the 1965 Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) allows the import of Indian goods to Afghanistan through the Wagah border crossing.

Wagah is on the India-Pakistan border near Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore.

Afghanistan says that in a future revised version of ATTA, it should be clearly stated that Afghan-Indian trade will be done through Wagah.

But Pakistan says that all Indian imports to Afghanistan should be made through seaports. As Afghanistan is a land-locked country, Indian goods would have to come through Pakistan's port cities, like Karachi.

A representative from northwest Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mohammad Is'haque, expressed concern about the route through Wagah.

He told Radio Mashaal that "if Pakistan allows Indian goods to Kabul by road [through Wagah], it would be a matter of serious concern in terms of security."

Ikram Hoti, a political analyst, says there is no threat to Pakistan's security if the newer version of ATTA is signed.

"[The dispute] is all because of the rivalry between Pakistan and India," Hotin said. "Pakistan has more benefits in signing ATTA. [It] will open trade talks between Pakistan and India [if signed], and all this hindrance is created by Pakistan because of political reasons."

However, the dispute stems from more than the trade route. Smuggling is also a major problem, and both Afghanistan and Pakistan have accused each other of not taking adequate steps to prevent it.

In 2009, after U.S. mediation, both countries signed a memorandum of understanding regarding trade and the United States said a new agreement would be signed by the end of 2009.

The agreement, however, has not yet been signed.

At today's meeting in Islamabad, the two ministers also agreed to develop rail links between Afghanistan and Pakistan. One such rail link would connect Torkham, Pakistan, with Jalalabad, Afghanistan. The second would link Chaman, Pakistan to Kandahar, Afghanistan.