Pakistan is easing burdens on Afghanistan in every possible way. The recent decision allowing the import of Afghan bulk cargoes amid coronavirus under the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement through Gwadar port is the latest example in this regard. Even though other countries are closing borders with each other, Pakistan’s decision to trade with Afghanistan fits perfectly in Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan’s vision for the region. Allowing the import of Afghan cargo will help ensure the provision of essential commodities in the war-torn country in ample quantities.
While the government’s decision regarding allowing trade activity is welcome, officials need to implement protocols that are necessary nowadays as both countries are struggling hard to overcome the spread of COVID-19. The federal and provincial governments must take foolproof measures. Establishing medical centres on trade routes – where the drivers and their helpers can be tested for coronavirus – must be our foremost priority. Taking preventive measures has become more urgent as at least 37 truck drivers who had returned recently from Afghanistan were tested positive for coronavirus. The authorities must ensure strict adherence to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and make sure no repeat incident is in the offing.
The transporters’ cooperation with the government in this matter will be extremely significant. Before anything else, they must be made aware of the deadly nature of COVID-19. The government must also have enough screening equipment for all drivers and helpers who pass through and come back to Pakistan. Likewise, the transporters also need to understand that if authorities want them to spend time in isolation, the purpose is not to vex them but protect them and others from the virus. This is undoubtedly a precarious situation and as always, we have lent a helping hand in a country’s time of need. Only extra scrutiny will ensure that our altruism does not become a problem.