WASHINGTON, April 24 : Pakistan will host an investment conference this summer to help Pakistani businessmen explore opportunties for joint ventures in Afghanistan, the landlocked western neighbor, seeking economic cooperation for a better future after three-decades of internal conflicts and wars.
During the conference, Afghan officials will identify the potential areas, where Pakistani entrepreurs could find opportunties attractive for doing business.
The finance ministers of the two countries discussed ways to further their bilateral trade and economic cooperation including implementation of the Afghan transit trade agreement, here during the annual IMF-World Bank spring meetings. According to Pakistani finance minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the investment conference could also be a prelude to a larger regional initiative, which could involve Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and other countries.
After meeting with his Afghan counterpart Omar Zakhilwal, the Pakistani finance minister said the two sides reviewed the follow-up to the joint economic commission meeting, in which they discussed progress on implementation of the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement and expressed general satisfaction over it.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman also attended the meeting held at the World Bank headquarters.
Shaikh said the two neighbors also discussed possibilities of regional multinational projects with South and Central Asian collaboration and decided to have continuing meetings in the run-up to the IMF-World Bank meetings in Tokyo this fall.
The Afghan finance minister sought Pakistani businesses’ participation in the construction of ADB-financed road from Torkham to Jalalabad. He also invited Pakistani investors to take part in exploiting mining opportunities in Afghanistan.
Islamabad and Kabul have improved their ties recently, in the backdrop of serious differences that dogged their relationship, mainly due to Afghan officials’ allegations against Pakistan that it tolerated sanctuaries of Afghan Taliban on its tribal border areas. The frequency of such allegations was seen by many experts as an attempt to cover up Afghan and international failure in winning Afghan public support against the Taliban insurgency. Pakistan, which has paid a heavy price in the continuing war on terror, accused Afghanistan of giving refuge to anti-Pakistan elements including those who stoked unrest in its southwestern Balochistan province.
The two sides signed a landmark Afghan-Pakistan transit trade agreement in 2010. The United States and regional countries welcomed the accord.
At the start of this year, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to double their annual bilateral trade by 2015.
A two-day Joint Economic Commission on January 16-17 in Islamabad – held after a gap of three years – pledged to resolve issues related to transit trade between the two countries. The two-way Pakistan-Afghanistan trade started swelling to unprcedented levels after 2005. In fiscal year 2010-2011, Pakistani exports to Afghanistan stood at $2.3 billion and imports hovered around $172 million.
The JEC accord seeks to raise bilateral trade to $ 5 billion by 2015. Pakistan is also giving $ 300 million grant to Afghanistan, that will support a series of projects including completion of the Torkham-Jalalabad highway, delivery of 200 trucks, 100 buses, more than 50 ambulances and mobile medical units, 10 million schoolbooks and other items.
However, obstacles still remain in the way of transit trade. Pakistani businessmen want to assist Afghanistsn’s economic development but also desire adequate security protection. Smuggling across the Durand Line is another issue hurting the Pakistani economy. Meanwhile, around 30 Afghan projects are being financed by the Pakistani $300 million grant.
Sources: MGCT. By Ali Imran
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