PESHAWAR -- Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday (September 18) inaugurated the 24/7 opening of the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The opening of the crossing "will change the lives of the people", Khan said at a ceremony near the border in Khyber District.
Peace efforts in Afghanistan help pave the way for regional prosperity, he said, expressing hope that the opening of the terminal 24 hours a day will be key to the economic uplift of the area.
With enhanced facilities, trade will further increase and that will lead to the establishment of peace and creation of jobs, he said.
The prime minister also inaugurated the Pak-Afghan Friendship Hospital at Torkham. Afghan patients arriving in Pakistan via the crossing point will receive care at the hospital.
Authorities opened the crossing 24 hours a day on an experimental basis on September 4. Workers are installing an integrated border management system at a cost of Rs. 16 billion ($102 million), with completion scheduled by 2022.
"Since the opening of the border on a trial basis, trade between the two countries has increased almost 100%, benefiting the people and traders of Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Collector Customs Appraisement Ehsan Ali Shah.
The objective was to boost trade and pave the way for legal imports and exports, he said.
In the past week, trade increased to $800,000, said Shah. Since the change, trade volume has climbed from $80,000 to $160,000 per day.
"Now, on average 2,000 trucks loaded with goods pass the border, compared with 800 prior to the opening of the crossing around the clock," he said.
Reduced waiting period
The Federal Board of Revenue and Customs have deployed additional staff to ensure the speedy checking and clearance of persons and goods, Shah said, adding that in the past, hundreds of trucks were parked on both sides waiting for clearance.
With the increase of personnel, these problems have disappeared and the waiting period has shrunk to hours instead of days, he said.
"The initiative taken by the government will bring prosperity as it will create more business and trade opportunities. We need markets for local industry, and Afghanistan is the most appropriate country," said Faiz Muhammad Faizi, president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mutual trade benefits the populations of the two neighbouring nations, Faiz said. In the past, Pakistani businesses could not take advantage of the Afghan market.
In the past two years, annual business with Afghanistan declined from $2.5 billion to $1 billion, which affected residents on both sides, he said.
"We urge Islamabad and Kabul to further strengthen economic ties and bring flexibility in business-related law to take full advantage of the initiative," Faizi said.
Torkham, in more peaceful times, was one of the busiest ports of entry between Kabul and Islamabad and serves as a major transportation and shipping site, said Sameer Rasa, who represented Afghanistan as member of a three-member delegation that witnessed the opening.
"We hold Pakistan in high esteem as it was an important business partner for Afghanistan," he said.
"We want to have better relations in order to enhance facilities for our traders," said Rasa, who is also a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
Sakhi Ahmad Paiman, deputy director of the Afghanistan Chamber of Industries and Mines, expressed hope that the opening of the border would go a long way in facilitating the export of Afghan goods to Pakistan or other countries via Pakistan.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country that needs Pakistan's support to start trading with other countries, he said.