Why border closure should be opposed?

pak-afghan-tensionsDivided by a porous and disputed border, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the two States in the South Asian region that have borne the brunt of extremists’ violence. Since the start of this millennium, tens of thousands of common people on either side of the Durand line have lost their lives during their fight with an extremist version of Islamic ideology. With few exceptions, it’s the common populace that stands stranded, tortured and killed in the face of chaos, fear and bloodshed almost on daily basis. With militants leading from the front, some measures undertaken by the States, especially Pakistan,too has compounded the problems for the commoners, thereby pushing their lives from bad to worse and miserable. In the wake of recent terror attacks, Pakistani authorities decided to close border on Torkham and as a result many got stranded on the border for weeks. Why should the decision to close border be opposed? Apart from an action lacking political maturity the decision of border closure should be discouraged for following reasons.

To begin with, of the many hurdles, it has created humanitarian crisis. Many, having legal and verified documents, cross the border from one state to another for earning livelihood and getting medical treatment, especially from Afghanistan to Pakistan. While Torkham crossing remained closed for weeks, many were stranded there having no food to eat, shelter to protect themselves, and water to drink; all, including women and children, spent their days and cold nights either on roads or in the nearby mosques. Sadly, in a video that I watched women in poor health conditions cried in sheer haplessness but their agony could attract few. The disturbing and grotesque scenario presented would tear hearts of the ruling elites apart, if they had any.

Secondly, along with the humanitarian crisis, the closure has adversely affected trade. Afghanistan is heavily dependent on Pakistan for its imports due to Karachi sea port. Since the border crossings are no more open for vehicles to pass through, Kabul has decided to import goods via Iranian Bandar Abbas, which is comparatively longer and costly route. Pashtuns, who live in or nearby the borderlands, transport vegetables, fruits and other necessary items for trade purposes have suffered heavily. Reportedly, Pakistan’s exports to the neighboring country have declined on a massive scale from 2.5 billion to 1.3bn dollars in the last few weeks. One wonders how blocking trade routes would help in eliminating terrorism. In this age of regional connectivity and economic integrationism, how can Pakistan become an Asian tiger if it adds on more hostility than friendship with its neighbors?

Thirdly, current imbroglio in the bilateral relationship has resulted in trust deficit among the people against each other. In any bilateral relationship people to people contacts serve as a bridge and help to deal with any crisis or confrontation easily. But in the past few weeks, due to the torture being faced by them, common Afghans have in return started hating Pakistan more than any other country. This is the first time that almost each group belonging to any group or ethnicity in Afghanistan is cognizant of the fact Pakistan has played higher role in destabilizing Afghanistan. In an interview to BBC Pashto Mehmood Khan Achakzai said “if Pakistan stops meddling in Afghan internal affairs, almost 70% of their issues would resolve”. And if one in interested in knowing the level of hatred and hostility, watch few video clips on ‘Mashal Radio’ of the people who were currently stranded on the border. It won’t be erroneous to state that current measures undertaken by Pakistan have transformed its ‘strategic depth’ doctrine into strategic crisis.

Last but not least, it is imperative to say that closed gates on Torkhan or Chaman will not help you defeat extremism, sorry to say! In order to root out extremism, the Pakistani State needs to adopt nuanced approach by fighting against all groups without any discrimination. There is no denying the fact that terrorists have their sanctuaries on other side of the border. It’s also true that Ghani government has negligible control over many areas in Afghanistan. Kabul and Islamabad need to realize that they have common enemy and should have coordinated intelligence sharing against militants. In these strained relations between the two neighbors, militants exploit the situation and get the advantageous position at the end. Thus,since there more than twenty crossings on Durand Line for terrorists to come and go, closing Torkham and Chaman only shows how incapable the authorities are to deal with any crisis. Importantly, knee-jerk reactions to the sporadic terror happenings clearly manifest how flawed our Afghan policy has been. Let the people hug one another and open gates for them, for gates are basically built for people to come and go, not to counter any ideology!

By Hazrat Shah Kakar

The writer is a graduate in Social Sciences from G.C. University, Lahore. He can be reached at hazratshah62@yahoo.com

THE PASHTUN TIMES

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