KHYBER: The export of Pakistani goods to Afghanistan through the Torkham border stopped on Monday after local clearing agents stopped operating to protest the border crossing’s lack of facilities.
The demonstrators said the strike was going to continue until all their demands were fulfilled by the authorities.
President Hazrat Umar of the Torkham Customs Clearing Agents told them at the border crossing that they had all been seeking, for a long time, a round-the-clock opening of the border for rapid trade with Afghanistan, the abolition of screening requirements for all forms of export products, and the establishment of a separate place for the inspection of export and import goods.
He asked that the authorities suspend the clearance after 5 pm of goods other than fresh food products and not report FIRs against clearing agents whose vehicles were carrying minor illegal goods.
Protesters demand facilities at Torkham border crossing
Mr. Umar said that at the time of the goods clearance, the government had failed to deliver on assurances of improved internet and energy facilities as the customs department made the clearing of export goods compulsory under the current web-based One Custom Law.
He said most of the custom clearing agents in the offices had no power source, while the DSL internet connection was very slow and seriously impaired their company by defects.
The demonstrators also kept, but to no avail, a meeting with both customs and security officials to address their problems.
Sources said the strike also disrupted the import from Afghanistan of fresh fruits and other products and hundreds of goods-loaded vehicles remained stranded on both sides of the border.
Pakistan is currently exporting cement, fresh oranges and retail products to Afghanistan via the Torkham border, they said but sluggish customs clearance coupled with long-drawn electronic screening of export products had a negative effect on exports to Afghanistan.
Rejecting the official argument that exports to Afghanistan had risen by 30 per cent through the Torkham border, local clearing agents insisted that the total amount of trucks and containers loaded had fallen to a mere 100 per day compared to the previous 600-800.
In Sept last year, Pakistan declared that it will hold open the Torkham border crossing 24/7 to improve its trade with Afghanistan.
However the clearing agents suggested that the customs authorities had neglected to supply the local importers and exporters with the required facilities.
Border customs officials argued that the uncooperative attitude of their Afghan counterparts was one of the key factors hindering the border crossing’s round-the-clock opening.
They said that due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus, the closing of the country’s all borders with Afghanistan in March had impacted trading practises on the Torkham frontier and that the local traders had sustained tremendous financial losses.
Local transporters have also voiced concerns against the security officials of both Pakistan and Afghanistan as they were required to exchange their vehicles at the zero point for unloading as required by a security agreement on the opposite side of the border.
They claimed that it took a lot of time to swap the loaded trucks, load and unload commercial goods, and carry back empty vehicles, and that was a big cause of delay in the clearance of import and export goods.