Mohmand residents eye renewed economic opportunities with reopening of border
GHALANAI -- The reopening of several crossings along the border with Afghanistan, once closed because of militancy, is bringing hope to local residents.
The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) announced on July 5 it would open the Gursal border crossing in Mohmand District and the Arandu crossing in Chitral District beginning Wednesday (August 7).
The opening of both border crossings is a priority, but it will take more time to make these trade routes functional, an FBR official said on the condition of anonymity.
"Presently, our total focus is on making the Torkham border crossing in Khyber District operational around the clock," he said Monday (August 5), adding that the opening of the new border points would help lessen the burden at that crossing.
Authorities shut down the Gursal border crossing a decade ago because of militants.
The move displaced about 40% of the population of Khwezai Tehsil and 70% of Bezai, according to a rough estimate by locals.
The nearby Utta Bazaar in Khwezai Tehsil, once a bustling hub of more than 200 shops, sits nearly deserted.
"This [Utta Bazaar] is the main market of Khwezai [Tehsil], which was famous for goods from Afghanistan," said Shahwal Mohmand, a 73-year-old Mohmand tribesman from Bezai Tehsil. "But the closure of the border in 2009 brought business activities to a standstill."
Raz Muhammad, who runs a grocery shop in Utta Bazaar, hopes that the opening of the Gursal crossing will help restore business activities not only in Khwezai but also in all of Mohmand District.
Ten years ago, there were at least 50 large godowns in Khwezai, providing thousands of jobs, he said.
Local traders would import electronic equipment (manufactured in a third country) as well as daily-use items such as cooking oil, soap, washing powder and fresh and dry fruits from Afghanistan, he added.
"They would offload these items in godowns in Khwezai to be further transported to other parts of the country. It was the backbone of our economy," Muhammad said.
The opening of more border crossings could enhance trade ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, say economists and businesspeople.
"We have the same tribespersons on both sides of the border crossings at Torkham, Gursal, Ghulam Khan and Chamman [Balochistan]," said Zahid Shinwari, former president of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Opening the border crossings will facilitate movement on both sides of the border, which will improve people-to-people contact between the two nations, said Shinwari.
Such a move "would improve trade contacts between the two neighbouring countries, having positive results on their diplomatic ties as well", he said.
The severing of trade relations between countries always has dire consequences on their respective economies, said Dr. Syed Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi, chairman of the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at the University of Peshawar.
In the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan suffers more because it is the seller, according to Soherwordi.
Afghanistan, a land-locked country, is dependent on Pakistan for trade, he said. But when Pakistan closes certain border points, Afghanistan is forced to seek alternative routes.
"There is no denying the fact that Afghanistan has sought alternative trade routes; this is evident because during the last three years our annual trade with Afghanistan has shrunk to $1.5 billion from $3 billion."
Strong economic ties with Afghanistan can help Pakistan strengthen its role in maintaining peace and stability in the war-torn country, he added.
"Earlier, Pakistan had a security role in Afghanistan, which has now been extremely diminished," he said.
By increasing trade, "we can boost our stake in Afghanistan," he added.