Monday June 24, 2024

The Torkham clash

By Alamzeb Khan
June 26, 2016

The recent clash between Pakistan and Afghanistan security forces on the Torkham border was the most serious such clash for the past 15 years including the one at Yaquby Kandao (Mohmand Agency) in 2003 and a skirmish over fencing at the Angoor Ada check-post in 2007.

Security officials at Torkham and the higher authorities in Islamabad and Kabul may have been aware of these possible repercussions since a debate had been on for the last couple of months that Pakistan was going to place some legal checks on the thousands of people crossing the border on a daily basis. And so, from June 1, it was made compulsory that crossing the border (into Pakistan) would need a valid passport, visa or any other required document.

The clash at Torkham became volatile when Afghan security personnel opened fire on a gate being under constructed some 37 metres inside Pakistan. Pakistani officials were of the view that after the June 1 deadline expired the gate would be used to check everyone crossing the border, and also help keep a check on the mobility of terrorists from both sides. For Afghanistan, though, this is not the matter of a single gate, and in such situations (as in the past as well), the Afghans bring up the status of the Durand Line.

Despite being international recognised – including by the US and the UK –and after a treaty in 1893 followed by the Rawalpindi Accord in 1919, the Durand Line is still not accepted by Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter if it is Sardar Daoud, Hamid Karzai or even the Taliban regime; they all called it a de-facto border.

The question is: why can these two countries not resolve this issue? Afghan authorities and the people of the country believe that parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata belong to them. Officials, media persons and some other elements from both sides also help create further divisions and hostilities.

The Afghanistan side continues to blame Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for destabilising Kabul. The opposite side has a strong argument which says that it was instead Afghanistan’s secret service agency KHAD that was involved in bombings in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the early 1980s. And they remember the role of KGB (terrorist bombings in Pakistan’s cities in 1987 and 1988) and another agency supporting Al-Zulfiqar (hijacking of a PIA plane in 1981 from Karachi to Kabul).

Recent blame-games have involved the Haqqani Network and Mullah Fazlullah. Both countries make some good points.

The dilemma is: when will this blame game come to an end? Do the two countries have a solution that could provide relief to the region, which has witnessed so many losses (mostly in the Pakhtun community) on both sides during the last four decades?

If they want to, both countries can get rid of this trust deficit scenario. They share scores of success stories. It was Afghanistan (King Zahir Shah) that stayed apart and didn’t support India in the 1965 war. It was Pakistan that received three million refugees with open hands during the Afghan war, most of whom are still living in Pakistan.

The recent years were even friendlier as Pakistan was facilitating the Afghan peace process particularly in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and USA) meetings. In November 2015, PM Nawaz Sharif accompanied by COAS Raheel Sharif visited Kabul. This was followed by a few more visits. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani visited Pakistan in November 2015 and even paid homage to martyrs at GHQ Rawalpindi. Afghan Army Chief General Sher Muhammad Karimi came to Kakul Abbott bad in April 2015. This was a good omen for both sides; and the first ever group of Afghan National Army cadets completed training.

Both countries are closely knitted into each other on religious, historic and ethnic grounds and rivalry between them will be tragic. But the Durand Line episode is still unresolved. Pakistan and Afghanistan must have a crystal clear equation which should be based on a give and take process. Playing blame-games on the Haqqani Network and Mullah Fazlullah must be ended immediately.

The recent statement by Sartaj Aziz in front of the Senate standing committee, that “the chapter of strategic depth is closed now”, should be welcomed by Afghanistan. The reported involvement of Afghan spy agency NDS in Balochistan should be looked into and stopped. Closing the Torkham border or even any other crossing is not the solution; only at the Torkham border more than 20,000 people cross daily.

But while making all this possible, Afghanistan should and must accept the Durand Line and should focus on reconstruction of the war-torn country.

In not accepting the Durand Line, Afghanistan is wasting energy that can be utilised for development, which has been due in the country for decades. An accepted border with legal check-posts will also help both countries improve trade and tax revenue by controlling the illegal trade of weapons, narcotics, vehicles, electronic products, food etc. The common misconception that it will isolate Pakhtuns on both sides of the border is incorrect. In fact, a peaceful environment will help them become an exemplary community.

However, if needed, there must be a fresh treaty for the recognition of the Durand Line between the two countries, which may be implemented in four to five years. That may include relaxation in the visa process, and increasing the number of verification centres at Torkham, Chamman and other areas. A biometric system should also be considered.

There is only one solution to make all this possible – there must be a divider, a boundary line and an international division or border between the countries. The 21st century is not the century of wars. People need food, shelter, development – not guns and bullets.

The writer is bureau chief with Mashaal Radio/Radio Free Europe for Pakistan. Email:

Twitter: @Pashtoontimes