ISLAMABAD: Warmongers in Afghanistan cheered at the Torkham border skirmishes and this gave the impression that Pakistan and Afghanistan were involved in a full-scale war.
Exchange of fire along the border is nothing new. However, the development attracted much attention as it took place at the busiest crossing point. Although the Torkham border has been closed since the clashes started on June 12, other crossing points are open and all diplomatic channels are intact.
Certain elements in Afghanistan, who are anxious to see the two neighbours at loggerheads, tried to provoke public sentiment on the pretext of growing tension along the Torkham border. However, Pakistan took the initiative and offered talks to Afghanistan on the matter.
Pakistan Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz told parliament on Thursday that he invited Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar to visit Islamabad to find a solution to the problem.
Afghanistan’s response was also positive. It decided to send the country’s deputy foreign minister for talks. Islamabad’s offer for dialogue and Kabul’s acceptance reflected the mood of both countries and their desire to find a peaceful solution.
Afghan Ambassador Dr Omar Zakhilwal, who had been involved in meetings, met with senior Pakistani military officials in Islamabad. He agrees that a “conversation at the leadership level was needed” to break the current tension and to show that “we want to resolve this peacefully”.
As the defence officials of both stood firm on their stance in Thursday’s meeting, political leadership and diplomats needed to step in and pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
The issue seems complicated, but dialogue is the only option to agree to a formula to address each other’s concerns on the Torkham gate.
A Pakistan military spokesman says the gate is 37 metres wide on its side of the border. However, Afghan officials argue that no construction can be done within 100 metres of zero-point. Keeping in view points of the two sides, a question of a few metres should not lock troops in “eyeball-to-eyeball” confrontation.
There is an urgent need to find out a quick solution to the problem as closure at Torkham has halted cross-border trade, economic activity and movement of the people. Hundreds of trucks and containers, loaded with goods, are stuck on both sides. This situation can further harm trade if the border is not opened.
Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries deputy chief Khan Jan Alokozay said on Thursday that Afghan traders have suffered $10 million in losses due to the clashes. He said Pakistan’s annual exports to Afghanistan are $2.5 million and nearly 60% of the items are exported via Torkham.
He told Radio Azadi in Kabul that most of food items are imported from Pakistan and Afghanistan exports goods, mostly food items, via Karachi. However, this activity ground to a halt after the Torkham’s closure.
He said 1,500 to 3,000 containers move across Torkham border on a daily basis when the situation is normal.
The border closure will not only have an impact on Afghanistan, but also Pakistan’s economic activities as daily exports have come to a standstill.
Besides the economic aspect, the tension has completely halted cross-border movement of people.
Ahmad Afghan Ahmadzai, whose family lives in Pakistan, is stranded in Kabul and cannot return.
“I had come to Kabul for a few days to meet relatives. I have got a Pakistani visa, but cannot cross the border and have been stuck up in Kabul for ten days. My family in Pakistan is worried about the situation,” Ahmadzai told The Express Tribune from Kabul on Friday.
It is not only Ahmadzai, but thousands of others on both sides who cannot cross the border. Torkham is the busiest point. Pakistan Embassy Spokesperson in Kabul, Akhtar Munir, says around 20,000 to 25,000 people cross the border daily.
Leaders in both countries should keep in the humanitarian aspect of closing the border in mind. A large number of Afghans come to Pakistani hospitals for treatment and many have missed routine consultations with doctors.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2016.