Afghan businessmen halted all trade with Iran Tuesday to protest a fuel blockade imposed unofficially by Tehran, the head of Afghanistan's Chamber of Commerce said, DPA reported.
"Today the representatives of all businesses held a meeting and voluntarily decided to halt all trade between Afghanistan and Iran," Mohammad Qurban Haqjo said.
Haqjo said the decision was made after the Iranian government failed to respond to a one-week ultimatum from Afghan businessmen demanding Tehran lift the ban on fuel supplies to Afghanistan.
He said that around 120 companies that have invested in Iran had decided to halt their activities.
The blockade began in mid-December after the Iranian government said it believed that part of its fuel was used by NATO for military purposes in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have repeatedly rejected Tehran's assertions, saying the fuel was solely used by ordinary Afghans. Iran has agreed to allow only 40 trucks per day to cross the border, but around 2,000 tankers are estimated to be still stuck at three crossings.
"It is Iran which will suffer from this situation," Haqjo. "We produce almost everything that we import from Iran and today's decision will help Afghanistan to promote its own production."
"Those commodities that we don't produce inside our country, we will try to procure from other countries," he added.
Official trade between Iran and Afghanistan is worth nearly 900 million dollars.
The blockade has increased fuel prices in Afghanistan by as much as 30 per cent and has sparked angry demonstrations in Kabul and the western province of Herat against Iranian diplomatic missions.
Afghan protesters threw stones and eggs at the Iranian embassy in Kabul last week, while burning pictures of Iranian leaders and chanting "Death to Iran."
An Afghan political party submitted a petition to the United Nations office in Kabul with the signatures and fingerprints of more than 200,000 Kabul residents opposed to the fuel blockade.
"The anti-Iranian sentiment is at an all-time high in Afghanistan because of this blockade," said Waheed Muzhda, a political analyst and former official in the Taliban government. "But I don't think this will strain relations between the two governments."
Afghan Commerce Minister Anwarul Haq Ahadi said Sunday that he was not happy with the progress in negotiations with Iranian officials to lift the blockade. He said the government was trying to procure fuel from other sources.
President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit Russia on Thursday, where he is expected to discuss the possibility of fuel supplies from the country's former occupier.