Pak-Afghan stand-off: the way forward

Published: February 21, 2017
The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate

The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate

The unilateral border closure by Pakistan on February 15 once again exposed the current extremely brittle and acrimonious nature of its current relations with Afghanistan. Slogans such as “Death to Pakistan, Down with Pakistan,” not only resonated at rallies in Kabul and Jalalabad but also made super-leads of the newspapers and electronic media in Afghanistan.Similar sentiments ran high also during a meeting between a Pakistani civil society delegation and the top hierarchy of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) on February 19 at Kabul, a day after Pakistan had handed Afghan officials a list of 76 wanted terrorists nestled in their country. Expectedly, Kabul responded with its list of 85 Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders on the Pakistani soil, which it claimed were involved in “crimes against people of Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, thousands of cargo trucks, passenger vehicles and tens of thousands of people are stranded on both sides of the border. A humanitarian and business crisis indeed, with scores of families separated, and perishable cargo rotting on board trucks.

Leading businessmen were all outrage, complaining of massive losses they have suffered in the last five or so years due to intermittent closure of border. It has also resulted in a drastic reduction of Afghanistan’s transit trade through Pakistan. They pointed out that Iran’s Bandar Abbas is more expensive but that is a much more certain and secure rate. Trust on Karachi is minimal due to corruption from the clearing processes in Karachi to the transition through the border at Chaman and Torkham. In many cases massive demurrage charges accruing from delays forced the importers to abandon their cargo. Afghan traders also complained of unusually high taxes on seasonal fruits. We asked them whether one could delink business from politics and whether business could function normally in abnormal political conditions such as the current ones, they offered little response. The halt in human and commercial cargo, allegations and exchange of lists of wanted terrorists is a bitter reminder of what has bedevilled the Pakistan-India relations too for decades. It hasn’t taken the two countries anywhere forward. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are reeling from a spate of terrorist attacks in January and February thus far — which have taken over 400 lives. Speaking to the visiting Track 1.5 delegation, acting foreign minister Hikmet Karzai and extremely highly-placed officials at NDS indicated their readiness to “in-depth discussions” on contentious issues. If the Afghan Taliban are providing the umbrella and sanctuaries for the TTP, Jamaatul Ahrar, ETIM, IMU, Chechen terrorists and Jundullah, why not confront them jointly, asked an official.

Most Afghan officials, however, refuse to look at the latest wave of terror in the context of India’s “teach and bleed Pakistan” policy. They would not like to relate the current wave of terror with what former Indian army chief Gen Bikram Singh told a national TV recently; asked how to deal with Pakistan he offered this recipe; If we can fuel insurrectionist movements in Pakistan (ref Balochistan), its army will start looking inwards instead of thinking of Kashmir. We have to refocus them on internal conditions. It will be possible only when we will spill their blood through asymmetric means. No military establishment will overlook such posturing from across the border. Neither will it dismiss the possibility of another country’s soil being used for “spilling the blood”.

This complicated context makes it all the more important for Afghan and Pakistani officials to resume their dialogue for the larger benefit of millions of suffering common people. Meaningful talks on Information sharing among the security or resumption of dialogue on modern border management as a means to control and monitor human and cargo traffic via international crossings could offer a meeting point. Both must shun the past baggage and move on for a sincere, substantial dialogue to ease human suffering and normalise relations.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2017.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Rahul
    Feb 22, 2017 - 12:30AM

    Pakistan has been doing this to India for 30 years. Recommend

  • Grace
    Feb 22, 2017 - 1:46AM

    Decades of interaction and even housing Afghan refugees should teach Pakistan and Pakistanis one thing: Afghans are can’t live among themselves and they cannot live with others – even as refugees in neighboring countries or in Europe or North America or Australia where the same refugees have problems too. Since India continues to use Afghanistan as a base to mount covert activities against Pakistan, it’s time to forget the minuscule trade that takes place on the Western border and permanently shut the Pakistan – Afghanistan border. Pakistan gets nothing but refugees, grief and criminals from that border. Pakistan needs to deport its Afghan refugees back to Kabul or send them to Germany. Lastly the US should help Pakistan build a Trump style wall that America is building to keep out Mexicans. The same type of wall could keep out Afghan refugees and allow Pakistan to develop further with the arrival of CPEC. Future trade with Central Asia will never go through Afghanistan which will always be unstable but through China and Tajikistan so just seal the Western border once and for all to stop Indian agents getting in along with the Afghan refugees. Recommend

  • vasan
    Feb 22, 2017 - 2:22AM

    Why quote Gen Bikram Singh, Hasnt he learnt it from Gen Zia who “kept the water simmer/boil at the right temperature”. All the sufferings and terror attacks inside Pakistan are due to its mischievous behavior with the neighbours in the past. When the neighbours play the same game, why cry. Sort your nonstate actors of all varieties out, lock stock and barrel and then complain if the neighbours do not keep away from you. Please bear in mind that all the nonstate actors causing havoc inside Pak are pakistani nationals and not Indians. If you have taught your child to play tantrums, he will do so whenever he wants not when u want. Got it?Recommend

  • onlooker
    Feb 22, 2017 - 9:29AM

    Keeping Pakistan Army busy is imperative to regional peace. Recommend

  • whatever
    Feb 22, 2017 - 9:47AM

    when Pakistani establishment were announcing bleed India to death by thousand cuts, all Pakistanis were rejoicing. When the leaders of Pakistan announcing we will eat grass but will make bomb, all Pakistanis were ready to eat grass. When Mumbai carnage was going on, people of Pakistan were dancing on streets. Now time is up and you people have to pay by your nose.Recommend

  • Ahmad
    Feb 22, 2017 - 1:54PM

    Blame everything on Afghanistan Like typical Pakistani. Recommend

  • Trollslayer
    Feb 23, 2017 - 5:17AM

    @ Grace

    Your post betrays an unwitting endorsement of post-truth politics devoid of accountability for one’s own actions, nor questioning the role of your intelligence agencies in the proliferation of terror networks. Your emotional rant makes you sound like a simpleton, who subscribes to a popular, but flawed narrative peddled by your post-truth politicos. Recommend

  • Trollslayer
    Feb 23, 2017 - 5:22AM

    @ Grace
    Sounds to me like you are describing Pakistan. All your ethnic groups are at each other’s throats and provincialism is deeply rooted in the psyche of Punjabis, Balochis, Sindhis, Pashtuns and I don’t even know where to begin with the plight of Mohajirs and the situation in Karachi.

    Please look inward and reflect on the rot setting in your country, before you vomit regurgitated filth about neighbors that you blindly hate.Recommend

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