By CJ Hameed
GHALLANAI: Gursal border, which connects Mohmand tribal district with Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, is closed since 2011 which has impacted business activities and people-to-people contacts on both sides of the border.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have a long history of trade partnership. Pakistan provides Afghanistan main access to seaport for its foreign trade, while Afghanistan provides Pakistan direct route to Central Asia. Transit to Afghanistan through Pakistan is governed by the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) which specifies the port, rout, transport, modes and customs transit procedures. With the passage of time, trade conditions for the transit of goods to/from Afghanistan through Pakistan have changed significantly.
Gursal is one of the many trade corridors of the Pak-Afghan border serving as trade routes from South Asia to Central Asia. Gursal is not less important than other trade corridors in erstwhile Fata like Torkham, Ghulam Khan and Angoor Adda in any respect, but due to lack of attention and facilities, this trade route could not serve in full capacity.
It is the nearest route from Kabul to Peshawar and from Jalalabad to Peshawar. Since the recent militancy, this border gate was completely closed in 2011 due to infiltration of militants from Afghan side of the border. The closure of the cross border trade directly and adversely affected the economic condition of Mohmand district which fell to the lowest levels in recent years. The militancy-hit Mohmand district further suffered economically with unavailability of jobs to youth. This downward trend in the economic condition directed impacted the standard of living of the people of the area.
Gursal Gate is situated in Baizai sub-division where different tribes share the same social, historic, religious, ethnic and cultural values. Some people of Khwezai and Safi tribes also live cross the border. Before modern chalk-outs of defined border routes and extension of mechanised traffic though paved roads in the region, this road provided main border interaction between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Estimated volume of formal annual trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan is over $2.5 dollars, while unofficial trade is estimated at over $5.5 billion. Being the nearest route from Kabul and Jalalabad to Peshawar, Gursal border gate has the potential to become the hub of socio-economic development in the area and whole region. Trade to this border gate has the potential to be extended to Central Asian States and further to the Eastern Europe.
Trade activities will boost employment opportunities in the area. District Mohmand and adjacent areas will no longer remain backward. Trade flow will attract the local population to establish businesses and create opportunities in the region. This initiative will be a driving force for boosting development activities. As time-saving and cost-efficient trade route, Gursal gate is the key to sustainable development. In the context of Pak-China Trade Corridor, Gursal gate presents effective trade opportunities.
The incumbent government has created hope for reopening of Gursal border gate which is good news for the business community. The visits by prime minister and chief minister to Mohmand have raised more hopes for opening of the border. During his recent visit to Mohmand on August 28, CM Mehmood Khan said Gorsal border will soon and the issue was discussed in the apex committee meeting. MNA Sajid Khan and Senator Hilalur Rehman also had also pledged that the border will be opened soon.
Muhammad Sadiq Khan, a local businessman, said that Gorsal border is an important strategic connection with Afghanistan where exports and imports worth billions can happen. He said the businessmen in Mohmand suffered greatly due to closure of Gursal border.
“Our enterprises have declined by more than 50 percent. There was a time when our daily sale was more than Rs1 million, but now we are down to Rs1-5 thousand sale only. Thirty percent shops are now vacant in our local bazaars,” he stated. He said the businessmen were hoping for opening of the border on August 08, but that did not happen.
Muhammad Wasiullah, a petrol pump owner, said his petrol pump has just started operation on Gorsal border’s route. He said the petrol pump will earn good profit if the border is opened. Abdul Wajid khan, a shopkeeper, is not much optimistic about the opening of the border and says some politicians made false promises just to get votes in provincial elections.