NEW DELHI - Signalling that Afghanistan is upset with Pakistan over its refusal to allow direct trade with India via the Wagah Border, President Ashraf Ghani says that if the deadlock continues, “We will not provide equal transit access to Central Asia [for Pakistani trucks].”

Ghani, who was in India on his first state visit, told The Hindu in an exclusive interview that it was a question of ‘sovereign equality’, and Pakistan must accept the ‘national treatment’ clause agreed to in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit and Trade Agreement (APTTA), signed in 2011, which gives each country equal access up to the national boundaries of both.

At present, Pakistan allows Afghan trucks carrying goods meant for India only up to its last checkpoint at Wagah, and not to the Indian checkpoint at Attari, less than a kilometre away.

Ghani said, “Regional cooperation requires a legal free-flow of goods and people. We are not asking Pakistan for any exceptional treatment. We are asking Pakistan for “national treatment”. Pakistani trucks come all the way to Attari. Why should Afghan trucks stop at Wagah? It’s a major cost for that distance, to load, unload and re-load. It is an incredible imposition on the cost of business. Sovereign states deal with sovereign equality. If we are not given equal transit access, then we will not provide equal transit access to Central Asia.”

“We are clear. In our talks with the Commerce Minister of Pakistan (Khurram Dastgir) we have made it clear that it needs to be reciprocal. Relations between countries, especially when it comes to business, if there were significant reasons, if we had not accorded national treatment to Pakistani trucks, then we could have understood,” the Afghan president added. To a question that will Afghanistan cut off Pakistani trucks’ access directly to the countries in Central Asia, Ghani said, “We don’t want to reach that level, but equality in all principles is a must. That is what I am saying. “

On Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India was keen on a trade agreement with Afghanistan that would include India in the APTTA. On Wednesday, Ghani met representatives of Indian chambers of commerce and leading businessmen, who expressed similar problems with land trade.

Making a strong call for India and the rest of the region to unite against the Islamic State, or Da’esh, which he said had challenged countries from ‘India to Russia’, Ghani said the IS threat was different from that posed by groups such as the Taliban, which wanted to ‘overthrow the state’. “Now the prize is not the state, it is destruction. Our territory is being made the battleground. Our people are being killed brutally to show a spectacle. We all need to mobilise as a region,” he said. He denied downplaying the threat from Pakistan-based groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, saying the ‘drivers have changed’.

To another question about TTP , LeT and Da’esh, Ghani said, “ They all form part of one ecology, which can be symbiotic, or competitive. There’s a Darwinian struggle amongst terror groups for hegemony. Da’esh has broken out of the pack because Al-Qaeda and the rest rendered allegiance to Mullah Omar. Da’esh doesn’t, so it is a very distinct ideological gauntlet that has been thrown. There are four drivers of this instability. The first is international groups like IS and Al Qaeda, the second are criminal groups, politico-military movements, and the irresponsible armed groups. “

He further added, “During the height of international force presence, their focus was on the Taliban, because the other terror groups were in Pakistan, across the Durand lines, where drone attacks were used. More than 120,000 international troops pulled out under a schedule that I had the honour of drawing up. Everyone was banking on our collapse after they withdrew. We are not collapsing. We do have a difficult security environment. But the drivers have changed. The international terror networks target every one of our neighbours from India to Russia. There is no space for dealing with them, as their quarrels are not with us. “