PESHAWAR -- The Pakistani government inaugurated a new dry port in the Azakhel area of Nowshera District, aimed at facilitating Pak-Afghan trade and promoting commercial activities in a region still reeling from the impact of a decade-long wave of militancy and terrorism.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on January 10 inaugurated the project, which workers built at a cost of Rs. 510 million ($3.4 million).
"The Azakhel dry port, spreading over an area of 64 acres, is the second-largest state-of-the-art dry port in the country and will help in the speedy transportation of goods from Karachi" to other areas in the country and Afghanistan, Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad said at the ceremony.
The dry port is being hailed by the business community, which has deemed it a positive development for the promotion of trade within the country and the region, including Afghanistan.
"The establishment of a new and modern dry port near the border city of Peshawar will facilitate Pak-Afghan trade and promote commercial activities in the region, which has witnessed a severe slump due to a poor law and order situation during the past several years," said Zia-ul-Haq Sarhadi, a businessman and president of the Frontier Custom Agents Association.
Nowshera and other districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) faced massive economic losses due to the destruction from years of terrorism and militancy and the ensuing migration of their residents.
Now that troops have restored peace in the area and temporary displaced persons have returned to the region, initiatives such as the Azakhel dry port are expected to help revitalise the local economy, officials say.
'A welcome development'
The business community has long demanded a modern and fully equipped dry port to facilitate the trading community of Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Sarhadi.
Because of a lack of proper facilities at the existing dry port in Peshawar, trade with Afghanistan -- especially the export of fresh goods including vegetables, meats and poultry -- had been negatively impacted, Sarhadi added.
With the facilities at the new dry port, businesses now will more freely invest in importing and exporting those items, which should lift trade between the two countries, he said.
"It is a welcome development, and it will have a positive impact on the economy of the region," said Shahid Hussain, acting president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI).
The dry port is boosting optimism among traders in both countries, agreed Hussain, who exports cement and other commodities to Afghanistan.
It is important for Pakistan Railways to avoid overcharging customers so that the dry port can succeed, said Hussain.
While at the inauguration, Federal Minister for Railways Ahmad proposed including a railway from Peshawar to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in the ML-1 railway construction project. Doing so would make possible a railway link someday from Karachi to Afghanistan and to the Central Asian republics (CARs).
The ML-1 is the main railway between Karachi and Peshawar.
Several trade initiatives under way
Saboor Malik, president of the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce, expects the new dry port to be a key driver for improved trade throughout the region.
"This dry port will benefit the whole business community of the country and could make Nowshera a hub for trade with Afghanistan and the CARs," he said.
"We can do wonders if we make this port operational in an effective manner," Malik added, while talking on a Pakistan Television Network programme.
Vast potential for trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan exists and will benefit the whole region if it is tapped properly, he noted.
The initiatives taken by Prime Minister Khan to boost Afghan transit trade are commendable and could kick start economic momentum in the region, Muhammad Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJCCI), said in a statement on January 12.
One such initiative was the decision last year to open the Torkham border crossing, situated between the two countries, seven days a week.
"Pakistan's decision to operate the Torkham border crossing 24/7 has shown good results in increasing exports between the two countries by Rs. 32 billion ($210 million) with Rs. 4.4 billion ($3 million) in import duties," said KP Finance Minister Taimur Jhagra.
After the improvement of trade facilities and other measures to stimulate business, annual exports from Pakistan to Afghanistan are expected to increase to Rs. 77 billion ($500 million), said Jhagra.
A gain in Pak-Afghan trade already occurred in the quarter of September to December 2019, he said.