Further reducing its dependence on Pakistan for international trade, land-locked Afghanistan has opened its first direct air link with China on the lines of the freight corridor with India that was inaugurated in June last year.

The first consignment of 20 tonnes of pine nuts was despatched from Kabul to China on Tuesday.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and senior Chinese diplomats attended the special ceremony, hoping the air corridor would lead to increased Afghan exports of dry and fresh fruits to Chinese markets and address a massive trade deficit.

During the past year, Afghanistan has launched air corridors with not only with India but also with Turkey, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.

Afghanistan proposes to export 20 tonnes of pine nuts daily to China until the end of the season this year. Beijing is one of the largest importers of Afghan pine nuts.

Afghan officials estimate the air corridor would enable them to earn up to $800 million in revenue.

Ghani described pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and cumin as “the hidden treasures” of Afghanistan, saying the trade corridors would enable the country to utilise its full potential.

Afghan businessmen and traders expect raw materials, including saffron and semi-precious stones, which are found in Afghanistan, would also be exported to China through the newly opened link.

Due to its uneasy and tense relationship with Pakistan, Afghanistan has been searching alternate trade routes that could enable it to avoid Pakistan’s land or sea routes. The Chabahar Port in Iran, which India is developing, is seen as a major project to bypass Pakistan for both Indian and Afghan exports to Central Asia and beyond.

Afghan officials and businessmen say political tensions and border skirmishes often prompt Islamabad to close major border crossings for days, hampering overland Afghan shipments, mostly containing perishable goods.

In the wake of its increased economic engagement in the region, China recently set up a trilateral foreign ministers’ level dialogue with Pakistan and Afghanistan to help ease tensions between the two countries.