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Afghan deal reopens trade route to Pakistan and India

Forty-six years after talks started, Afghanistan has struck a trade deal with Pakistan opening a direct route to India and calling to mind its past glories as the crossroads of Asia.

The agreement was signed during a visit to Islamabad by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who talked about the need to strengthen ties between the two countries which are both battling Islamic militants.

Besides improving Afghanistan's access to foreign markets, the move has been hailed as an important political step forward, showing an unprecedented degree of co-operation between neighbours that have long viewed each other with suspicion.

Although there are bound to be difficulties implementing the arrangement, it theoretically allows Afghan trucks to drive across Pakistan to the Wagah border post, on the frontier with India. Until now, goods were shipped to India across Iran then by sea or were subject to delays while they were transferred into Pakistani vehicles. In return, Pakistan has gained access to central Asian markets.

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, "congratulated people of both countries", calling the deal a "major step for the regional trade".