Love thy neighbour

Newspapers and TV programmes of one country are banned in the other

M Ziauddin February 24, 2018
The writer served as executive editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

The misperception and misunderstanding about each other in Pakistan and Afghanistan is partially due to the fact that the two get the news about their neighbour from a third source or what is called second-hand sources.

Newspapers and TV programmes of one country are banned in the other. No Pakistani media organisation in Afghanistan or Afghan media organisation in Pakistan has its reporters in either of the countries. One feels the commercial interests of these media organisations would certainly ensure more responsible and less sensational or acrimonious reporting from each other’s country if this ban were to be lifted and reporters are posted to each other’s country.

In fact if Pakistan were to enhance Afghan economic interest in Pakistan and vice versa, the vested economic interests of businessmen of the respective countries would certainly encourage them to prevail upon their respective policymakers to keep the relations between the two countries largely tension-free.

In this respect, one could even take a second look at the demands of both Afghanistan and India for direct land trade route through Pakistan. This arrangement can be negotiated on the basis of a trade-off and bargain over what we would get. Both India and Afghanistan have shown keen interest in having direct trading links through Pakistan. India seems so keen that perhaps New Delhi would be readily persuaded to concede to Pakistan anything reasonable in return, like at least stopping state terrorism in occupied Kashmir.

Our fears that India would misuse the facility to undermine our security are legitimate but once its economic interests get enmeshed with the trade ‘route’, New Delhi would think more than ten times before risking it by indulging in any inimical mischief. Moreover, with CPEC being provided security by Pakistani and Chinese troops, India would be a greater fool to even think on those lines.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement is a bilateral trade accord between Pakistan and Afghanistan renegotiated several times. The treaty also allows Afghanistan an access to a land route up to the Wagah border with India. It does not allow Afghan goods transporters to cross the actual border. It also does not allow India to use the land route to export goods to Afghanistan either.

The Convention on Transit Trade of Land-locked States is a multilateral treaty that addresses international rules allowing for land-locked countries to transport goods to and from seaports. The convention imposes obligations on both land-locked states and on coastal states that ratify the treaty.

The convention has essentially been superseded by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The provisions of the Convention are however not trouble-free with regard to landlocked states. For example, it still leaves undefined the concept of the legitimate interests of transit states. Under the pretext of the protection of legitimate interests, transit countries can critically challenge the rights and freedoms of landlocked countries. The term legitimate interests can be and has been interpreted by transit states according to their convenience.

This loophole in the Convention has been used by Pakistan to close down the Afghan border on the pretext that its security has come under threat from across the Durand Line as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were launching terror attacks on selected targets inside Pakistan from their safe sanctuaries inside Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the excuse that the Pakistan government has used the pretext to close down the border has given rise to a number of questions like, if these terrorists could cross the border and travel across hundreds of miles un-detected to reach the selected targets in Punjab and Sindh what were our law-enforcement agencies doing or for that matter if the TTP was using its sleepers inside Punjab which is full of Jihadi organisations of various colour and hues to launch these attacks, isn’t it also the failure of these very agencies?

These questions give rise to another question: What would happen if the Afghan government were to go to the Security Council complaining that Pakistan has violated the law governing the landlocked arrangement without any plausible reason?

Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2018.

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