Friday, June 17, 2016

Business Recorder editorial June 14, 2016

Afghan border tension Tensions have flared up for the second time in two months on the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan. Last month, an exchange of firing took place between the security forces on both sides, which persuaded Pakistan to close the border for five days. The issue was the construction of a gate on the Pakistani side, which Islamabad says is necessary for better border management and to prevent the entry of terrorists from Afghanistan. Now again the same issue has flared up since June 12 when an attempt by the Pakistani forces to construct the same gate met with harsh words and then firing from the Afghan side, resulting in 10 army, Frontier Corps and Khasadar Force personnel being wounded, along with six civilians. One army major has since succumbed to his wounds. Retaliatory firing by the Pakistani forces, reinforced by military units with heavy weapons and tanks, inflicted casualties on the Afghan side in which one soldier was killed and six wounded. The exchange of fire started on Sunday and continued through Monday. Both countries summoned their respective envoys and delivered strong protests. This is by now a well known pattern of events between the two sides. It needs to be understood that the Afghans are angry with Pakistan for recent reasons as well as those rooted in history. The latter revolve around the Afghan view that the Durand Line, which marks the border between the two countries, is a colonial imposition and therefore rejected. What follows from this position are irredentist claims to the Pashtun areas within Pakistan. The former have to do with Afghan perceptions that their troubles over the last 15 years stem from Pakistan allowing safe havens to the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil since 2001. Irredentist claims have no place in today’s world. Colonialism may have drawn arbitrary lines according to its own convenience in many parts of the world, but there would be few takers today for opening the Pandora’s box of trying to accommodate the conflicting claims of post-colonial states. Afghanistan therefore is in splendid isolation on this score. As far as the other Afghan complaint is concerned, things have not remained static. The emergence of homegrown terrorists with alleged links to the Afghan Taliban has taken some of the sheen off the idea of this movement serving as a proxy strategic asset for Pakistan. Unfortunately though, the change in attitude on the Pakistani side has come late in the day, making it difficult to overcome suspicions inherited from the past. Pakistan argues that it cannot accede to the demands of the US and Kabul to ‘take action’ against the Afghan Taliban on its soil while at the same time being urged to bring them to the negotiating table. There is weight in that argument, as in the consideration that Pakistan cannot afford to open a new front against the Afghan Taliban when it already has its hands full with its own terrorists. However, the failure of Pakistan, and the Quadrilateral Group, to deliver the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table has caused a resurgence of suspicions, allegations and charges of a duality of policy. Irrespective of this conundrum, little purpose is served by the present tensions on the border. As ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan has sensibly argued, these tensions and clashes on the border are not in the interests of either country or their peoples. They will only increase the problems of people on either side and make cooperation against terrorism afflicting both countries (and therefore the common enemy) that much more difficult. It is therefore essential for bilateral relations and cross-border cooperation against terrorism that talks be held at the highest level between the two sides to defuse tensions. An example of Pakistani goodwill was the revelation to a Senate committee on June 13 by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry that the Angoor Adda check post had not, as reports earlier claimed, been handed over to Afghanistan, but a gate had been constructed by Pakistan on the Afghan side as a gift. Perhaps that is the spirit required to pull both neighbouring countries out of the pit of continuing tension that periodically breaks out in armed conflict on the border and help the critical task of cooperation against terrorism of all hues and varieties.

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