New Delhi: Despite efforts to keep India at bay in order to maintain its stranglehold on trade with Afghanistan, Pakistan has not just faltered but even lost ground – losing fifty per cent of its market share in just two years.
According to a report in Pakistan-based Dawn, the country is fast losing out to India and China in terms of countries with the largest share in trade with Afghanistan. Zubair Motiwala, Chairman of Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has been quoted as saying India, in particular, has managed to penetrate Afghan market by subsidising its exports to Kabul. He has said that Afghans find it easier to travel to India with cheaper tickets and multiple-entry visa, and that medical tourism has seen a paradigm shift. “Medical tourism of Peshawar, which was mainly due to Afghans, is now at zero level; hospitals in Hayatabad are empty,” he said.
Domestic industries in Pakistan which flourished due to trade with Afghanistan has also reportedly suffered major setbacks. Of 200 flour mills in Pakistan which catered to Afghanistan for instance, 100 have reportedly shut down. Motiwala has further elaborated that at bilateral trade’s peak, 70,000 containers from Pakistan to Afghanistan was the usual figure. Now, it it’s 7,000.
The drastic and dramatic fall in trade share with Afghanistan may well be Pakistan’s own doing. Both India and Afghanistan had previously expressed a desire for Pakistan to open its land route for New Delhi. It had been turned down. Analysts believe Islamabad feared India would upstage Pakistan’s dominance in trading with the Afghans. But that is just what eventually happened. India bypassed Pakistan completely by opting to trade with Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port in Iran. The first consignment of wheat from India reached the Afghan city of Zaranj last November and was hailed by both nations as a start of bigger and better things.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has largely gone from being an active player to a being on the sidelines. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement continues to be mostly confined to bilateral meetings with not much materialising on the ground. Little surprise then that other players stepped up and have snatched the mantle away.