Pakistan eases travel restrictions, announces aid for Afghanistan

Pakistan to provide over $28m in immediate humanitarian aid and ease travel and trade restrictions at its land borders.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, centre, along with Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood and Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar during a news conference in Islamabad [Salahuddin/Reuters]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan will provide more than $28m in immediate humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and will ease travel and trade restrictions at its land borders.

The announcement was made on Thursday after Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi concluded a one-day trip to Kabul, his first since the Taliban seized power in the neighbouring country.

Speaking at a news conference in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, Qureshi said delegation-level talks with the Afghan interim government, including interim Afghan Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund, were positive.

“The Pakistani people stand with the Afghan people in this difficult time,” said Qureshi. “We have never left room on this, and this remains our thought.”

Pakistan-imposed restrictions on the movement of goods and travellers through the two main land crossings between the countries had been a key point of tension in recent weeks.

Qureshi announced significant policy changes after his visit to Kabul.

Afghan visitors to Pakistan with valid visas will now be able to cross the border freely, with an e-visa facility introduced in order to streamline the visa application process, he said.

Visa fees have also been waived until December 31. An additional documentary and fee requirement for a “gate pass” has now also been dropped.

Afghan travellers who are seeking medical care in Pakistan or are facing a medical emergency will be granted visas on arrival.

Border crossing hours have also been increased, with the pedestrian crossing corridor opened for 12 hours a day, compared with the previous eight hours, and the trade corridor made operational 24 hours a day.

Economic measures

Since seizing power in mid-August, the Taliban’s interim government in Afghanistan has faced a worsening economic crisis, with most of the central bank’s assets frozen abroad and internal economic activity grinding to a virtual halt.

Addressing those concerns, Qureshi said Pakistan had dropped duties on the import of Afghan fresh fruits and vegetables, and that a working group had been formed to examine where duties could be reduced or removed on other commodities.

“Keeping trade in mind … Afghan businessmen were facing a lot of difficulties,” said Qureshi. “Now we have decided that if any Afghan businessman wants to come to Pakistan in relation to trade then they will get visas on arrival for 30 days.”

Talks were also held on security issues, with Pakistan raising concern regarding the use of Afghan soil by the armed group Pakistan Taliban, also known as TTP, against Pakistan.

“They said in very clear terms that now, with them there, Pakistan should not have any fear that Afghan soil will be used against [Pakistan],” said Qureshi.

Qureshi said he “spelled out” the international community’s expectations from the Afghan Taliban’s interim government in order to achieve international recognition.

“I spelled out those things that the international community expects from them … for example, on inclusivity, for example, on fundamental rights, on women’s rights, on girls’ education, for example, on the reduction of space for international terrorist organisations,” he said.

The Afghan delegation included interim PM Akhund, Deputy PM Abdullah Hanafi, Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, Finance Minister Hidayatullah Badri, Defence Minister Muhammad Yaqoob, Mines and Petroleum Minister Muhammad Isa Akhund, Commerce Minister Nooruddin Azizi, and Border and Tribal Areas Minister Noorullah Noori.

Pakistan’s delegation included the head of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant-General Faiz Hamid, senior security and military officials, commerce ministry officials and senior foreign ministry officials.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Source: Al Jazeera