Pakistan and Afghanistan have signed a broad-based record note - a prelude to a formal Transit Trade Agreement between the two countries - allowing export of Afghan goods to India through Wagah border and other destinations through Pakistani seaports via designated routes with a reciprocal concession by Afghanistan to facilitate export of Pakistani merchandise to the Central Asian States. The new arrangement is based on reciprocity and mutuality of interests and represents a marked departure from the previous unilateral agreement permitting Afghanistan to use Pakistan territory for its imports and exports in the light of the international obligations to facilitate trade of the land-locked nations by the neighbouring states having outlets to the outside world. Contrary to the impression in certain circles, this bilateral accord does not include any understanding or commitment to allow export of Indian goods to Afghanistan through Wagah. Trade agreement between India and Pakistan is a bilateral issue which is beyond the scope of this covenant between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The understanding reached between the two countries, unfurls a myriad of economic benefits for the two neighbours, as well as for Pakistan and the Central Asian States, which hitherto have been a hostage to the atmosphere of mistrust and schism in their relations, in the backdrop of the ongoing war on tenor. Pakistan will immensely benefit from the avenues opened up by this agreement for having access to the lucrative and large markets of the Central Asian States for its exports. The new initiative, apart from promoting economic interests of the contracting parties, also has the potential of facilitating political stability in the region as a collateral benefit accruing from the expected linkages and creation of strong economic bonds between the countries involved. Presently, the estimated trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan is over $ one billion, while the black market trade is several times greater than the legitimate bilateral trade due to the loopholes in the previous Afghan Transit Trade Agreement. The new protocol, to a great extent, plugs those cleavages and takes care of the illegal trade by providing an appropriate mechanism to check the unscrupulous elements. In order to prevent the possibilities of unauthorised trade, it has been agreed to install tracking devices on the transport vehicles and devising a mechanism for customs-to-customs information. Further, to ensure that the goods meant for Afghanistan do actually reach the destination, it has been provided that the authorised brokers and clearing agents will enter financial guarantees equal to the amount of import levies of Pakistan and these deposits will be released after the goods exit the country. In case the goods do not exit within the specified time, the guarantees will be cashed by the customs. According to the agreement, Afghan trucks will be permitted to carry Afghan transit export cargo through designated routes and on return at Wagah shall be allowed to carry goods from Pakistan to Afghanistan under the same procedures and conditions as prescribed for Pakistan transport units. It has also been agreed that Afghan transit goods would be exported in containers of international specifications and for a period of three years and the facility will be extended in conformity with the internationally acceptable and verifiable standards. The record note also stipulates the establishment of an Arbitration Tribunal to settle disputes arising out of the implementation of the accord. In case of disagreement on the appointment of the third Arbiter two names of non-nationals and non-residents would be proposed by each side and the third arbiter would be selected by drawing lots from the four proposed names. The record note also envisages early signing of a formal protocol after the completion of the legal processes by both the countries to replace this interim arrangement. Pakistan and Afghanistan are not only neighbours, but also brotherly Islamic countries. Pakistan has always strived to have cordial relations with Afghanistan and perceived it as a strategically stabilising factor in the regional security scenario in view of the threats emanating from its instability and long drawn insurgency situation. It stood by the people of Afghanistan in the Jihad (holy war) against the invading forces of the former Soviet Union and provided succour to millions of Afghan refugees for about a decade and still continues to play host to millions, who have not returned to their native country after the Afghan war, despite the enormous financial drain on its resources and the ecological repercussions. Anyway, this agreement is an indication of improved relations between the two countries. The present government deserves the credit for patience and perseverance with which it has been pursuing this path. The writer is a freelance columnist.