Mahmood Zaman President Hamid Karzais recent visit to Pakistan, and the inking of the 23-point Islamabad Declaration on June 11, has emerged as a comprehensive scheme to clamp down terrorism and expand trade beyond the mutual arrangement of the Afghan Transit Trade to multilateral commercial movement, which involves landlocked Central Asian Republics (CARs), that is, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. When Islamabad agreed on allowing Afghanistan and CARs to have access to the hot waters of the Arabian Sea, Gwadar became the hub of trade and commercial activity, and due to this the seaports strategic location has always been in focus. Obviously, Pakistan has been eyeing this windfall for long. This activity will, undoubtedly, accrue more benefits for Pakistan in financial terms. But more than that it has a strategic advantage in a situation that Islamabad seeks to make a paradigm shift in its foreign policy looking for dependable allies in the region; Chinas involvement in manning the seaport is, indeed, a glaring example of what Pakistan intends to do. Anyhow, both the Pakistani and Afghan leadership were positive about the Islamabad Declaration, which envisages the two countries to improve connectivity and infrastructure development, initiate cooperation in energy, mines and mineral sectors, and significantly increases cultural, parliamentary and people-to-people contacts. For this, a two-tier joint commission mechanism to facilitate and promote reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan was established. The first meeting was held in Islamabad the same evening in the presence of the military bosses of the two neighbouring states to work out the details of its implementation. President Hamid Karzai met President Asif Ali Zardari before joining Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani to oversee the declaration being signed by Afghanistans Foreign Minister Dr Zalmai Rassoul and Pakistans Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar. It is definitely a win-win situation for Pakistan to see the Transit Trade Agreement come into effect, which concluded in October 2010. The treaty survived many scares, but was finalised when a Pakistani delegation visited Afghanistan earlier this month to decide its terms of reference. However, one pertinent provision of the agreement restrains the Afghan traders to use the Wagha Border to export their merchandise to India. This provision was included after a prolonged negotiation between the two countries and it will protect the Pakistani industry from the possibility of smuggling Indian goods in Pakistan. When concluded last year, the local business community welcomed the agreement hoping that Pakistans trade with Afghanistan and the energy rich Central Asian Republics will boost their trade by several billion of US dollars a year. Surely, the October 2010 agreement has replaced the trade treaty between the two countries inked 45 years ago in 1965. More so, President Karzai and Prime Minister Gilani led the first meeting of the joint commission for reconciliation and peace, pledging that the body would meet again in October. The facts are so bare and the wound is so clear and hurting that it requires both of us to work diligently and extremely aggressively and effectively to curb terrorism and radicalism in the region, said President Karzai. While PM Gilani insisted: Pakistan wanted a stable, peaceful, prosperous, independent and sovereign Afghanistan, adding that, Islamabad was ready to provide whatever support they want in the Afghan-led peace process. Therefore, an end to this decade long insurgency, the restoration of peace, and an environment that is conducive to trade and commerce and cultural exchange is what the leadership in Pakistan has always pleaded for. Now that Afghanistan has inked a declaration with Pakistan to achieve the objectives, there is reason to believe that Islamabads interaction with Kabul, and the extension of the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement to Central Asian Republics, will lead to the virtual creation of a bloc in the region. That will help create a nucleus for development and open new diplomatic options, which are vital for the stability and sovereignty of the member states. n The writer is a freelance columnist. mah