ISLAMABAD: In a sign of fast deteriorating ties between Islamabad and Kabul, Pakistan has indicated it could abandon work on development projects in Afghanistan in the wake of harassment of its workers there.
A Pakistani official in Kabul said on Saturday that authorities in the Logar province earlier this week detained an engineer, who is working on a Pakistan-funded hospital, for nearly five hours.
On May 24, a police squad visited the under-construction 100-bed Naeb Aminullah Khan Logari Hospital in Logar province to search and clear the structure ahead of an impending visit of the governor.
As many as 45 Pakistani workers, including engineers, are involved in the construction of the $14 million hospital. Besides Pakistanis, around 90 Afghan nationals also work on the site.
The Pakistani official said police took issue with an electrical machine claiming that it could be used for terrorism.
“Pakistani contractors explained to the police officer that the machine is used only for electrical purposes but the police officer was adamant on his view and took the site engineer to the police station,” the Pakistani official said. He said the engineer, a contractor, later contacted the local administration in Logar and the governor. It was on their intervention that the engineer was released, but not before he was detained for five hours.
“Harassment of Pakistani nationals, who are working on various projects, is now common and has demoralised them,” the Pakistani official lamented. He added that the Afghan government is lax on ensuring security for workers.
The official further pointed out that Pakistani workers and engineers have been killed and kidnapped in the past. “If the situation continues, we will be forced to abandon projects,” he warned. He also complained that Pakistani workers also face problems in securing Afghan visas and extensions in visas.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s top diplomat in Islamabad said that it was just one incident. “We should not generalise [based on] one isolated incident of a worker detained and then released within a few hours to all Pakistani workers in Afghanistan,” Afghan Ambassador Omar Zakhilwal told The Express Tribune.
He added that around 100,000 work in Afghanistan without any restrictions.
Pakistan is providing $500 million for capacity building in various sectors including education, health as well as building schools, hospitals, roads and other communications infrastructures of Afghanistan, according the Pakistan Embassy website.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2016.