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Pakistan’s customs agent says exports to Afghanistan dwindle

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2021)

Hundreds of trucks lined the winding, mountainous road leading to Torkhum, the Pakistan-Afghan border crossing on Thursday.

Pakistani officials say that is because exports to Afghanistan have dwindled in the days after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) take over.

But some truck drivers were upbeat because they said the vegetable and fruit season in Afghanistan had helped increase exports of these items from the war-ravaged country.

Another Pakistani official at another Pakistan-Afghan border Chaman said trade had picked up because the IEA government had reduced taxes, and also put an end to bribes that traders and truck drivers had to pay to cross the border.

Afghan new government bolstered its economic team last week, naming a commerce minister and two deputies as the group tries to revive a financial system in shock from the abrupt end to billions of dollars in foreign aid.

Underlining the economic pressures building on Afghanistan’s new government, prices for staples like flour, fuel, and rice have risen and long queues are still forming outside banks as they strictly ration withdrawals.

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Kabul hoping to purchase 1 million barrels of crude oil from Russia

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(Last Updated On: August 17, 2022)

Afghanistan’s acting minister of trade and industry Nuriddin Azizi has said Kabul hopes to purchase one million barrels of Russian crude oil, and secure some sort of barter arrangement with Moscow.

Currently on a visit to Moscow, for talks on expanding trade ties with Russia, Azizi was quoted by Russian media outlet RIA Novosti as saying “we have offered [Russia] to buy about 1 million [barrels], if [Russia] can send more, then this is not a problem.”

He also noted that Afghanistan is hoping to barter for the oil. “The most important thing for us would be the oil and gas project. We would also like to consider the option of barter trade, provided that Russia has a need for some kind of Afghan products,” he said.

In May, Afghan Charge d’Affaires in Russia Jamal Nasir Garwal spoke about plans to negotiate with Moscow on the supply of Russian hydrocarbons. “We are determined to reach agreements between Afghanistan and Russia and sign specific deals,” he said.

Russian Ambassador to Kabul, Dmitry Zhirnov, told RIA the sides will discuss the supply of crude oil, grain and sunflower oil during the delegation’s visit.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade has not yet meanwhile said that the Afghan delegation has not yet finalized any agreements with the Russian side..

Although Russia has not yet recognized the new government of Afghanistan, it has close relations with Kabul.

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Trans-Afghanistan railway survey finds no technical problems with route

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(Last Updated On: August 17, 2022)

A preliminary field survey has found no technical problems with the proposed route for a 780 km trans-Afghanistan railway which would link Uzbekistan with Kabul, Jalalabad, the border with Pakistan and Peshawar.

The proposed railway is a joint initiative by Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan which is intended to promote regional connectivity and trade. It would also provide Central Asia with access to Pakistan’s seaports, Railway Gazette International reported.

The cost is provisionally estimated at $5 billion.

Surveying by a joint technical team from the three countries began at Naibabad on the existing Uzbekistan – Hairatan – Mazar-i-Sharif railway on July 27 and was completed at Torkham on the border with Pakistan on August 10.

The joint team will make any necessary changes to the proposed alignment before presenting a final route to the authorities in the three countries for further technical and economic feasibility studies, Railway Gazette International reported.

The Afghanistan Railway Authority said the members of the tri-national technical team considered the survey a success, and had expressed satisfaction with the arrangements made by the Afghan government and the professional behavior of the railway authority.

Bakht-u-Rehman Sharafat, who became ARA Chairman following the IEA takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, said railway projects would guarantee Afghanistan’s economic development and also security.

History, economics and conflict mean that Afghanistan’s rail links to Central Asia are currently limited to two short 1 520 mm gauge cross-border links from Turkmenistan and the 75 km line from Uzbekistan to Mazar-e-Sharif.

A 1 435 mm gauge line from Khaf in Iran towards Herat was inaugurated as far as Rozanak in December 2020; this was damaged last year and needs to be repaired.

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Biden unlikely to release frozen Afghan assets anytime soon

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(Last Updated On: August 16, 2022)

The Biden administration does not plan to release billions of dollars of Afghan government assets held by the country’s central bank anytime soon, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, Tom West said Monday.

Citing concerns the funds could end up in the hands of terrorists after the leader of al-Qaeda was killed while hiding out in Kabul, West said: “We do not see recapitalization of the Afghan central bank as a near-term option.”

He said “the Taliban’s (IEA) sheltering of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups.”

CNN reported that a National Security Council spokesperson said “there has been no change” in efforts to get the funds to the Afghan people, but cited Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul as having a direct impact on how the administration deals with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).

“We have been engaged with foreign counterparts in efforts to support the establishment of an international trust fund with robust safeguards to enable the use of Afghan reserves for the benefit of the Afghan people given Afghanistan’s ongoing economic and humanitarian crisis,” the NSC spokesperson said.

“We have made considerable progress and our focus right now is on supporting the establishment of this fund. The recent revelations of the Taliban’s (IEA) flagrant violation of the Doha agreement illustrate the importance of remaining clear-eyed in our dealings with the Taliban. Our approach to the future of these assets will continue to reflect that reality.”

This decision not to move on the releasing of the funds anytime soon comes about six months after US President Joe Biden signed an executive order allowing for the $7 billion in frozen assets from Afghanistan’s central bank to eventually be distributed inside the country and to potentially fund litigation brought by families of victims of the September 11 terror attacks.

The funds were frozen by the US government after the Afghan government collapsed last year and the IEA took over control of the country.

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