THE busiest border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan reopened last Saturday morning after the recent border skirmishes which led to its closure for six days. Recent border skirmishes are the first of its kind, tightening the already tensed relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s military offensive launched in North Waziristan has completed its two years. However, the military officials have not declared the operation over yet. Instead, it has been stated that Pakistan would now be working on setting effective border management mechanism. Effective border management is a challenge for Pakistan as it requires greater resources, manpower and above all the mutual consensus over terms of both neighbouring countries.
Afghan ambassador has alleged Pakistan of violating agreement by constructing gate at Torkham border and unprovoked firing was a response to it. As stated by Sartaj Aziz, the ongoing construction of Torkham gate cannot be halted; Pakistan is not violating any bilateral agreement. He further added that Pakistan is constructing gate in its own territory and does not require taking permission from anyone. Pakistan’s rationale behind regulated border crossing is simple: to regulate, monitor cross over, while denying entries to those not possessing proper documentation.
Threat of terrorism is imminent to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. With most of terrorists pockets cleared in tribal belt of Pakistan, authorities here do not want any passage for terrorists to make a return. Before the start of military offensive in Pakistan, Afghanistan was informed about possible spillover, requesting both Afghan and US officials to take action against those fleeing. Besides, many acts of terrorism have been attributed to Afghan nationals entering unlawfully in Pakistan, which calls for a restrictive policy. In past couple of years, Afghan leadership has levelled allegations regarding terrorists, making their way to Afghanistan through Pakistan. Such claims have already been proved counter-productive for peace initiative to work. Being victims of terrorism, both countries cannot control it without taking action against terrorists. Also, an effective border management mechanism could prove to be a problem-solver in this regard.
Amid border skirmishes, Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai visit to Islamabad holds great importance. Pakistan looks forward to meaningful deliberations through a constructive engagement between the two sides with a view to promoting bilateral relations as well as peace and stability of two countries and the region. Meanwhile, it is important for both sides to repent damages, talk about differences through diplomatic means. Change of attitude has already costed lives, taking away trust, tormenting relations overall. Retaliations of this magnitude over a claimed settled matter somehow threatens Pak-Afghan affairs.
Situation in Afghanistan is fragile with stalled peace process and internal erosions. Instable Afghanistan stands against the developments in the region. And it is a known fact that Pakistan has a definite role in bringing stability to Afghanistan. Pakistan has always ensured complete assistance to Afghanistan in key areas of capacity building, training of forces and development of infrastructure. Pakistan has been most consistent stakeholder during peace process, offering solutions for settlement. In light of regional dynamics, Pakistan and Afghanistan have to align their interests. It must be understood that matters between Pakistan and Afghanistan can only be sorted through diplomatic means, use of force or violence is no option. It is through action against terrorists and effective border management that both countries can counter terrorism. Border surveillance on Afghan side can help remove suspicions regarding terrorists making their way in Afghanistan through Pakistan. Afghanistan has been receptive to messages of Pakistan. Unfortunate terrorists’ incidents on either side of border and allegations pressed against each other have damaged the positive rapprochement of past. Being close neighbors, hostile relations won’t serve interests of anyone.
Also, Afghanistan must make careful choices in choosing its regional partners. Pakistan and Afghanistan are knitted in a unique relation, where actions guarantee trust. This fight against terrorism is crucial, requiring unshakeable trust. It must be mutual cooperation, not hostility, the way forward for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Let issues of mutual interests including economic cooperation along with revival of peace determine fate of Pak-Afghan relations.
— The writer is Assistant Research Officer, Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.