A collective border management initiative between Afghanistan and Pakistan has remained a disputed issue. Pakistan– often questioned for its role in managing cross border movements— has on several occasions, pitched the idea of reforming the unregulated soft border concept to a more vigilantly monitored zone.
However, most of these initiatives have not been properly implemented owing to local grievances and due to a significant portion of Afghan leadership capitalising on ethnic sentiments.
Last year too; despite Pakistan intimating Afghan political elite well in advance- the construction of gates at Torkham crossing– brought forth a low point in Pak-Afghan bilateral relations coupled with several clashes between the security forces on both sides.
Once again the start of this year sparked a series of terror attacks across Pakistan and refreshed the relevance of this issue. Stuck between a rock and a hard place; Pakistan was compelled to shut down its border with Afghanistan– which accentuated resentments of sorts on both sides.
Afghanistan– owing to its deep social and economic anchoring– and support from within Pakistan- perhaps also understands the need for a safe and stable border. The recent developments appear to indicate a silent recognition and cooperation from the Afghan side.
During the ECO summit in Islamabad the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal urged the PM to reopen the borders in the spirit of regional integration. Taking his push for peace seriously he also hoped for positive outcomes from the Pak-Afghan London Talks- though the details of the discussions which took place mid March– have not yet been revealed. The statements issued after the talks suggest that cooperation on border management and collective efforts to counter terror were some of the focal points.
Following the talks, the crossings at Torkham and Chaman were re-opened with the requirement of proper travel documents set in place.
On the other hand, a growing recognition of regional terror groups collating with Al-Qaeda and IS, is leading to another convergence in collaborating on counterterror initiatives. The US intelligence reports have recently revealed concerns over the burgeoning terror footprints in Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Pakistan– on its part has begun fencing areas adjacent to these ‘high threat zones’ primarily in Bajaur and Mohmand Agency.
However, immediately following the London Talks, JuA (Jamat ul Ahrar) launched an offensive attack in Kurram Agency and two more following the fencing commencement.
Whereas several political voices in Afghanistan continue to undermine these security measures by attributing alternate agendas to these moves- though it seems highly unlikely that these security measures have been initiated without the consent of the Afghan leadership.
But, these two core issues would still need to be properly addressed in order to consolidate recent initiatives by formulating an appropriate narrative coupled with a strong political engagement.
In Pakistan’s case– the hysteria over sterner border management revolves around possible denting of human conditions and inviting increased backlashes from terror groups. The fact is that if these initiatives are successfully executed they could not only help in effectively countering terror but also discourage smuggling and drug trafficking. The overall impact will lead to improved sociao-economic conditions. Thus, essentially improving socio-economic conditions in the long run.
The hype needs to be subdued in order to amass public support for these initiatives, seal gaps for any undue grievances and minimize panic in the wake of any fading out terror attacks perpetrated by these groups to derail the peace process; such as the recent missile launches into Kurram agency by JuA– which exhibits desperation.
For that — enhanced and effective political unity in addressing and resolving these issues is essential.
For Afghanistan– reforming its narrative appears to be very essential. The border clashes between security forces that flare up following any such initiative appear to be closely related to impacts of a certain perpetrated sentiment. But, divided amongst various political pulls coupled with various power pulls this reform could be a much more complex issue for Afghanistan.
Therefore, a continued negative rhetoric as counterproductive as it maybe to the concept of any cooperation — is likely to continue for sometime along with a slight chance of possible one step forward two step backward act.
To resolve that— Pakistan may have to take the lead and help Afghanistan ‘makeup its mind’ and wake up from a dangerous dream.
Presently development aid for Afghanistan is pouring in from all corners of the world; but it is also coupled with the reality that repatriation of Afghan refugees is also being expedited globally; alongside a restlessness amongst big powers to resolve the Afghan crises appears to be increasing.
Pakistan should engage in a broad political dialogue with all significant stakeholders in Afghanistan to address the need for internal political unity, good governance and genuine development that would match the needs of its current residents and those returning back.
Pakistan, should also help it weigh the looming dangers incurred by consolidating paranoid sentiments of any major power amidst sensitive global changes and heightened concerns regarding terrorism.
Despite being shunned in the past, Pakistan should nonetheless, continue to help Afghanistan realise the advantages of geostrategic significance that finds natural harmony on several levels by maintaining a nonaligned stance and peacefully accommodating interests of big powers while respecting each other’s national interests.
Lastly, the bilateral trust deficit requires attention and Afghanistan has to do its share. However, in the wake of a possibly more coherent relation with the US Pakistan needs to expedite improving ties with Afghanistan and utilise improved security initiatives to carefully expand political and economic engagements with its neighbor.