Editorial: As the border reopens

The border crossings with Afghanistan at Torkham and Chaman have been reopened, to enable thousands of intending returnees stuck on this side of the border. Simultaneously, this facilitated the resumption of trade between the two countries.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the “goodwill gesture” became essential because the closure of the border had been against two sides’ economic interests. The Afghan government has credited the reopening to last week’s meeting in London between Afghan and Pakistani officials. According to the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad, the two sides used the occasion to decide “some other important issues,” which the Pakistani government does not intend to make public at this stage.

The reopening of the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan whose relations have been deeply troubled ever since 1947 is a significant development, and hopefully a step back from the two neighbours’ mutual mistrust and acrimony. As to how soon the outcome of the London meeting triggers bilateral moves towards Islamabad and Kabul sorting out their differences nothing can be said with any certainty – as has been the case almost always in Pakistani-Afghan discussions and negotiations in these past seven decades.

Unlike the conflicting stands the two neighbours take on a myriad issues at the government level, people on both sides of the border have tremendous commonality. In normal times it is a daily routine for thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans criss-cross the border, socially interact with each other and buy and sell goods on the other side. It is they who suffered when the border crossings were closed. And none but these people are benefited as barriers at Torkham and Chaman are lifted.

The terrorists who fled military operations in Pakistan found safe havens in the adjoining provinces of Afghanistan. There are no two opinions about this reality. Last week, the notorious militant Qari Yaseen who was killed in a US drone attack had been based in the Afghan province of Paktika. Will closing the common border crossing points stop them from sending their foot soldiers into Pakistan? That is more than doubtful. Closing borders is therefore no solution to fighting Afghanistan-based terrorism.

The Pakistani-Afghan border is too long, too easily penetrable and is straddled by tribes distributed on both sides. Suicide-bombers don’t have to come through Torkham or Chaman; they come from other parts of the border which are unprotected. Or their leaders have to only awake up their sleeper cells in Pakistan.

The pragmatic approach to fight this menace would be greater political and military co-operation between the governments in Islamabad and Kabul. Let us hope that the “other important issues” the two sides are said to have discussed and agreed upon in London include at least some degree of co-operation. They have already exchanged lists of terrorists and the locations of terrorist hideouts are no more completely secret to them.

They should now follow up on the London understanding and evolve a common strategy to fight terrorism. For far too long, the two sides have nurtured independent approaches to fight terrorism, but failed. The time has come for their now joining hands for peace on both sides.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2017