Cross-border fighting between Afghanistan and Pakistan has suspended trade worth millions of dollars and stranded hundreds of trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables at the border, where the produce stands to spoil in the rising heat.
Pakistan had temporarily closed the Chaman border crossing, across from Afghanistan’s Spinboldak, after a frontier skirmish earlier this month between Afghan and Pakistani border guards left more than 10 people dead. Global economic institutions say South Asia is one of the world’s least economically connected regions, and the periodic closures of border crossings complicate things further.
Summer is peak time for fruit and vegetable production in the two countries. Under normal circumstances around this time of the year, a significant portion of Afghanistan’s grapes and pomegranates is ferried overland to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s mangoes and vegetables go the opposite direction, along with bilateral trade in many other commodities — some legal and some otherwise.
Part of the Afghan fruit produce is sold in Chaman and nearby villages; the remainder finds its way to markets across Pakistan.
It’s a long-established system that relies heavily on trust: Pakistani fruit traders send advance payments to their Afghan counterparts, who then send the fruit after it’s harvested. But so far this year, the Chaman businessmen say they have not cut the usual deals because the border closure have created the risk of coming up empty-handed.
Amant Khan, a fruit trader in Chaman, said he suffered losses last year as tensions rose between the two countries.
“This season we did not give the grape or melon dealers anything,” he said. “In fact, we decided not to do business with Afghanistan.”
For traders in Waish Mandi, a thriving Afghan market town across from Chaman, these are hard financial times, too. Hundreds of people, who used to benefit from border trade, have lost work. Unable to move their merchandise across the border, goods worth millions of dollars are stranded in truck containers.
Apart from the fruit trade, bilateral trade between Afghanistan and Pakistanonce worth $3 billion a year has dropped to $1.2 billion, said Khan Jan Alkozai, president of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Pakistan’s own fruit exports to Central Asia via Afghanistan, which usually average 2 million pounds, also suffer because of border closures, Alkozai said.
Daro Khan, former vice president for the Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Chamber of Commerce, said Pakistani farmers and businessman have not recovered from losses due to border closures last year.