Pakistani traders call for improved screening at borders instead of closure

Pakistani soldiers wearing facemasks stand at the closed Pakistan-Iran border in Taftan on February 25, 2020 as fears over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus escalate following an outbreak in neighbouring Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Pakistani traders call for improved screening at borders instead of closure

  • Islamabad has sealed its borders with Afghanistan and Iran for two weeks to combat coronavirus spread
  • Traders suggest the government follow WHO recommendations for proper quarantine and fumigation of vehicles at borders

KARACHI: Pakistani traders this week urged the government to improve quarantine facilities and screening at borders with neighboring countries instead of closing frontiers completely.

Pakistan announced on Friday it was sealing its borders with neighboring Afghanistan and Iran for two weeks as the coronavirus crisis deepens in the region. Iran is battling one of the worst outbreaks outside China and reported 113 new deaths from the virus on Sunday, bringing its death toll to 724.

The Pakistani government has as yet not released figures for the economic impact of the border closure.

“The finance ministry is evaluating the input coming from different departments and sectors including tourism, airlines and hospitality sectors. Though complete picture has not yet emerged but the work is in progress with the help of health ministry and it will take quite some time,” the ministry’s spokesman, Omar Hamid Khan, told Arab news on Sunday.

According to Asian Development Bank estimates, the country’s losses will be between $16 million and $61 million.

“We have suggested that the government follow WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations for proper quarantine and fumigation of vehicles through deployment of professional teams at borders with Afghanistan and Iran. Separate space could be allocated for this process,” Badar Uddin Kakar, senior vice president of the Quetta Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.

“We know it will not lead to 100 percept trade flow but it would not close down the window altogether.”

The move to seal the border with Afghanistan will potentially affect millions of people and trade supplies as landlocked Kabul heavily relies on Islamabad for its food requirements through Afghan transit trade and exports from Pakistan.

Pakistan-Afghanistan trade increased from $1 billion to $2.3 billion in FY2018-19, with cargo mainly transported through the Torkham and Chaman border crossings, according to Pakistan customs data.

“An average of around 245 containers cross the border with Afghanistan on a daily basis, carrying goods, including food stuff. The move will destabilize the trade flow,” Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.

“Around 100 containers (under Afghan Transit Trade) are on the way to Afghanistan containing refrigerated food items. The container cost is estimated at $100 per day,” Motiwala said. “Who will sustain such losses?”

Exporters of fruit and vegetables also fear huge losses due to the border closure.

“We estimate that the our losses would be around $7-$10 million in the backdrop of border closure,” said Waheed Ahmed, patron-in-chief of the All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchants Association (PFVA).

Pakistan shares more than 3300 kilometers of porous border land with Afghanistan and Iran, making it difficult to adequately monitor illegal movement of people and goods.

“Currently barter trade takes place between Pakistan and Iran as both countries mainly exchange essential commodities and in some cases raw material,” Kakar at the Quetta Chamber of Commerce said, adding that barter trade between Pakistan and Iran stood at around $1 billion.

Traders fear that the border closure will also hurt the country’s exports and local manufacturing and consumption capabilities.


Hundreds of Pakistanis stranded in Saudi Arabia return home on special flight

Updated 31 May 2020

Hundreds of Pakistanis stranded in Saudi Arabia return home on special flight

  • This was the eighth PIA special flight to bring Pakistani nationals back from the Kingdom
  • Earlier, over 15,000 Pakistani Umrah pilgrims were brought home on special flights 

ISLAMABAD: A repatriation flight with 251 stranded Pakistanis on board departed for Karachi from Jeddah, the Consulate General of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia said in a statement on Sunday.
This was the eighth special flight of the national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), from Jeddah following the coronavirus related suspension of routine international flight operations in the Kingdom on March 15.

Pakistani nationals wait for a special flight to Karachi at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport on May 31, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Consulate General in Jeddah)


“Consul General Khalid Majid and Deputy Consul General Shaiq Ahmed Bhutto were present at Jeddah International Airport to bid farewell to the passengers,” the statement said.

“A total of around 1,700 Pakistanis have so far been repatriated from Jeddah region through seven special flights,” the statement added, and said similar special PIA flights were also being operated from Riyadh region.

Pakistani nationals wait for a special flight to Karachi at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport on May 31, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Consulate General in Jeddah)


“Embassy of Pakistan at Riyadh and the Consulate General at Jeddah in close cooperation of PIA, are coordinating arrangements of these special flights in their respective jurisdictions.”

Saudi Arabia halted all international travel and suspended Umrah pilgrimage in response to the pandemic in March this year.

Over the months, Pakistan has brought back over 15,000 of its nationals who had gone to Saudi Arabia for Umrah but found themselves stranded amid coronavirus lockdowns in the Kingdom.