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New Commercial Route at Chaman: Implications for Pakistan, Afghanistan
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Pakistan's and Afghanistan's political, economic, and cultural histories are complex. However, security concerns, border disputes, and mutual mistrust have frequently strained their relations. Both countries could benefit from each other's commercial and transportation capacities. Trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been hampered by a lack of necessary infrastructure, bureaucratic hurdles, security concerns, and political complications. The two nations' bilateral trade has decreased from $2.7 billion to $1.2 billion in only one- and- half year.

To address these issues and increase trade and communication, Pakistan and Afghanistan constructed a second commercial route at the border of Chaman. The Chaman border crossing connects Quetta and Kandahar in Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively. The new Chaman Gate, only in one kilometer from the old Friendship Gate, provides Afghan and Pakistani women with a certain transit point. The concept of the Spin-Boldak route seeks to facilitate travel and trade between the two countries.

 It handles commodities and people from both countries. To speed up customs processing, a new route was built to accommodate more Pak-Afghan transit commerce trucks. Afghan and Pakistani women have transit areas. The new route will boost cross-border trade, delighting firms on both sides. Since the Taliban took control and foreign assistance stopped, Afghanistan's economy has collapsed. Afghan farmers benefit from exporting Kandahar goods over the Chaman boundary. If the border was restored, the Taliban could collect customs revenue from border posts.

Moreover, the new route will boost Pakistan and Afghanistan's commerce and tourism. Tourism, communication, commerce, and understanding would benefit. Pakistan's ports and roadways would link Afghanistan to regional markets, improving regional integration.

 Economic implications:

The new border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan will enhance commerce and transportation between the two countries, thereby benefiting the economy. In 2021, Afghanistan exported $595 million worth of goods to Pakistan, while Pakistan sold $833 million worth of goods to Afghanistan. Raw cotton ($156 million), coal briquettes ($94.4 million), and grapes ($62.1 million) were Afghanistan's top exports. Pakistan's rice, vegetable oils, and cement exports totaled $121 million, $75 million, and $70.9 million, respectively. During the previous 18 years, Afghanistan's exports to Pakistan grew at an annualized rate of 18.1%, while Pakistan's exports to Afghanistan increased by 4.04%.

The new border crossing will reduce the restrictions and costs associated with cross-border commerce, allowing for a more efficient exchange of goods and people between the two countries. This will benefit both economies by increasing revenue, creating jobs, enhancing competitiveness, and promoting regional integration. Afghanistan's trade with Pakistan is essential for the income and subsistence of Afghan agriculture, diversifying Afghanistan's export markets and reducing its reliance on international aid. Trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan positively impacts Afghanistan's products and services, particularly agriculture, construction, and energy. It also aids Pakistan's efforts to combat terrorism and extremism by promoting economic development and stability in the region.

However, the new commercial route would have a negative economic impact on both countries. It will increase competition and pressure local industries and businesses, which may require assistance to compete with items from the opposite side that are less expensive or of higher quality. In addition, it will make it more difficult for customs and border officials to supervise and monitor the passage of goods and people across the border. Moreover, it exposes both countries to the dangers of contraband, trafficking, and illicit trade, which could impact their economies and security.

Security implications:

The new commercial route will affect Pakistan's, and Afghanistan's, security. The permeable Durand Line creates friction and mistrust between the two nations. Afghanistan and locals with historical and cultural ties to Pakistan oppose Pakistan's initiative to fence the border, which is intended to prevent terrorist infiltration. The new border crossing may reduce border tensions, but it will not resolve the root cause of the animosity between the two countries.

While this economic corridor will boost the relations between the two countries, some hostile elements, such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and many other miscreants, may harm this commercial route project.  Since terrorist elements are interfering in the relations between the two countries, they can do anything to sabotage the project, so the personnel at the border will have to keep vigil.  At the same time, India will feel threatened by the project as it is already working for its interests there and would not, at any cost, want the relations between the two countries to improve.

India has invested in Afghanistan's infrastructure and assisted the previous Afghan government in its fight against the Taliban. Pakistan is worried that India may threaten its security and interests in Afghanistan. Establishing a transit commerce crossing portal at the Chaman border benefits Pakistani and Afghan businesses but has economic and security repercussions. The new border crossing will increase both economies' income, employment, competitiveness, and regional integration. However, it will increase competition and pressure on local industries and businesses, put customs and border services to the test, and expose both nations to contraband trafficking and illicit trade.

Abdul Mussawer Safi is the student of International Relations at the National Defense University Islamabad. He worked in many think tanks and his expertise lies in the regional dynamics South Asia as well as with publications of highlighting different issue at various outlets. His Twitter is @MussawerSafi and can be reached at mussawersafi1999@gmail.com

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