Afghan Finance Minister Eklil Hakimi on Sunday told his counterpart Ishaq Dar about his government’s decision to call off the JEC meeting just before his plane was scheduled to take off for Islamabad, said sources in the Ministry of Finance.
Hakim made the phone call at a time when Pakistani protocol staff was preparing to welcome the delegation at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Islamabad. The 10th JEC meeting, which was expected to cover all economic matters, was slated for August 24 and 25.
The commission was supposed to take up for discussion 55 items including three-dozen burning issues, sources said. These included transit trade, access for Afghan cargo traffic to Pakistan’s border posts and integration of the customs system of the two sides to curb smuggling.
The progress on infrastructure and social-sector projects, which Pakistan was funding, was also on the agenda. In the past couple of months, the government had removed the irritants, which were delaying implementation of these schemes.
Pakistan was expecting a breakthrough on a majority of outstanding issues, sources added. Relations between the two neighbours were gradually improving after formation of a unity government of President Ashraf Ghani. However, ties soured after a sudden spike in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, which was blamed on militants allegedly hiding in Pakistan’s border areas.
Pakistan has condemned the violence and says it remains committed to helping Kabul to end the unrest. It stresses there are hostile forces in the region that do not want to see cordial relations between the two sides.
Dar discussed “the possibility of holding the next Joint Economic Commission meeting in Islamabad in the last quarter of this year,” according to a brief statement issued by the Ministry of Finance on Sunday.
It added both finance ministers discussed various issues of economic cooperation between the two countries.
The finance ministry, however, said the Afghan finance minister could not arrive for the meeting as “the dates clashed with the visit to Afghanistan by the president of Turkmenistan.”
In what appeared to be an Afghan government-backed move, people last week staged violent protests outside Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul, particularly when a Pakistani delegation was present in the premises. The delegation had been there to discuss the fate of millions of Afghan refugees staying in Pakistan for the last four decades.
According to sources, a stern warning by the head of Pakistan’s delegation for a tit-for-tat response in Islamabad forced the Afghan government to take the step.
According to the Afghan media, the importers have announced a ban on import of Pakistani medicines and pharmaceutical products valuing about $4 million annually. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry has also endorsed the decision.
Some of the Afghan religious scholars last week called for a ban on the use of Pakistani currency, which has been a common practice for years in parts of Afghanistan especially in border regions.
Regional and international developments of the last two weeks suggest that some forces were joining hands to harm Islamabad’s interests, according to defence analysts. The military’s decision to launch a ground offensive in the restive tribal areas against militants had drawn appreciation from the western and European powers.
However, now questions are being raised over the military operation and the US has hinted at stopping the release of $300 million in Coalition Support Fund on the ground that Pakistan was not taking action against the Haqqani militant network.