SHAHZAD MASOOD ROOMI
Afghanistan is strategically an important geography for Pakistan’s geo-economics policy which takes center stage in Pakistan’s National Security Policy 2022-2026. Landlocked Afghanistan provides Pakistan with a land bridge to connect it to Central Asia and Russia. Till 2018, Pak-Afghan border had two official border crossings – Torkham (KP) and Chaman (Baluchistan). For centuries, these routes have provided traders with access to and from Central Asia to Arabian Sea shores.
On March 9, 2018 Pakistan opened another trade border crossing between the two countries; known is Ghulam Khan Border Crossing.
Ghulam Khan is a town in North Waziristan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. It is located on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. A border crossing at this point have provided local and international traders another route to and from Afghanistan.
Opening of Ghulam Khan Border crossing was outcome of fulfillment of one of the conditions set in “Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement 2010 (APTTA)” which was signed in 2010 by Pakistan and letter by Afghan government. In the new treaty, three border crossing points from Pakistan side were notified: Torkham, Chaman, and Ghulam Khan.
According to Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Muhammad Sadiq, first transit route is the shortest between Pakistan’s coast & Afghanistan & beyond. Earlier trade activities via this border crossing were limited to bilateral levels between Pak and Afg.
Most importantly, Ghulam Khan Border crossing provides Pakistan with the shortest route connecting China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)’s western route with Afghanistan, Central Asian States and beyond. This explains strategic importance of this border crossing point.
Ghulam Khan crossing is located between North Waziristan and Afghanistan’s Khost province. Hakla-Dera Ismail Khan Motorway (M-14) under CPEC is not far away from Bannu district of KP that serves as a gateway to North Waziristan. The proposed DI Khan-Zhob Motorway creates a chain among Ghulam Khan, DI Khan, Quetta, and Gwadar.
This western route of CPEC passes through most backward areas of Pakistan and promises uplifting the socio-economic profile of these areas. Provincial govt. of KP has planned to set up multiple Special Economic Zones along with this route to provide job opportunities to locals and to boost industrial base of the KP. One such special economic zone has been proposed at Daraban, Dear Ismail Khan that will be known as Daraban Economic Zone (DEZ). Industries in this special economic zone will benefit thousands of local and will provide access to Afghanistan, Central Asian and Russian markets through Ghulam Khan Border Crossing.
This is why Pakistan believed that poverty in both countries can be defeated by increasing economic cooperation and activities across the border to provide youth opportunities to restrain them from becoming a militant or foot soldier of some foreign hostile entity.
Around 3125 acres of land has planned to be acquired to establish DEZ where approximately 400 industrial units will be established making it largest special economic zone in the country. As per government’s plan, the DEZ will be established at only two-kilometer distance from CPEC’s western route, making it ideal for international investors.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have already reached an understanding to utilize existing bilateral and transit trade opportunities for mutual benefit.
After US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan has stepped up its efforts to establish stable trade ties with Afghanistan as these relations are critical for Pakistan’s newly adopted National Security Policy with a major focus on geo-economic. Opening Ghulam Khan Border Crossing for transit trade to Central Asia in April 2021 was a step in this direction.
Peace and stability are the most critical prerequisites for trade and economic activities. Ghulam Khan Border Crossing has witnessed multiple closures over security related incidents and prevailing distrust between the two countries.
These closures have negatively impacted the bilateral trade and transit trade via Pakistani border crossings. Afghan businessmen moved to use the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran for import of goods to Afghanistan. Consequently, mutual trade volume between Pakistan & Afghanistan witnessed a decline from US$2.5-3 billion in 2014 to US $800 million in 2020.
To facilitate local traders, KP govt. has planned to build market on Pakistani side of the border crossing on demands of local elders.
Ghulam Khan Terminal is operated by Pakistan Customs and the National Logistic Cell (NLC). Apart from that a rest house at Ghulam Khan has been constructed recently. KP govt. along with Pakistan Army is working on multiple socio-economic initiatives in Ghulam Khan town like rehabilitation of health and educational institutes. This border crossing is also providing opportunity to divided families on both sides of borders to connect.