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October 12, 2019

Row over market ownership: Afghanistan closes its consulate in Peshawar

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October 12, 2019

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan on Friday closed its consulate here in protest following a dispute pertaining to the ownership of a market in the city.

The Supreme Court had earlier given its verdict in favour of a Pakistani citizen who claimed ownership of the building in Peshawar that is also claimed by the Afghan government. Afghan Consul General Mohammad Hashim Niazi maintained that the Afghan flag has been removed from the market owned by Afghanistan.

He alleged that the shopkeepers in the market were tortured. He recalled that Afghanistan had warned that it would close its consulate in Peshawar if the Afghan flag was removed from the market. "We have now closed our consulate in Peshawar," he added. The Afghan consul general expressed reservations over the incident at the market and said the Qabza mafia must be stopped.

He said Pakistan must find a solution to the problem by using diplomatic channels. He said such acts should have been avoided at a time when the situation is uncertain and tense. A Pakistani citizen, Syed Intikhab Haider Abidi, had claimed ownership of the Afghan market in Peshawar.

The Supreme Court had decided the case in favour of another litigant, Zawar Hussain. Afghanistan's consulate in Peshawar claimed that the Afghan government owned the market as it had purchased it from the previous owner.

Complying with the orders of the Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court (PHC), the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Tuesday took steps to hand over the market to Zawar Hussain, who had won the case of ownership.

However, the shopkeepers at the market staged a protest against the move. The Afghan Consulate lodged a protest over the action. Meanwhile, Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Shukrullah Atif Mashal visited the market and again hoisted the Afghan flag there.

Talking to the media, he claimed the market was owned by the National Bank of Afghanistan. He threatened that the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar would be closed if the flag was removed again. Subsequently, the police again removed theflag and in reaction the Afghan government closed its consulate in Peshawar.

When this correspondent visited the Afghan consulate at 5:00pm it was closed. A message was written on white paper that the Afghan Consulate had been closed. The police and district administration got the market vacated after PHC Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth issued a notice to the officials to appear in person for framing of charges for non-compliance with the decisions of the Supreme Court and PHC to get the Afghan market vacated so that it could be handed over to the decree-holder.

The court had issued the notice in contempt of court petition filed by one Syed Intikhab Haider Abidi, a decree-holder of the Afghan National Market, situated in front of the Jinnah Park in Firdous locality in the city. It is spread over five kanals and 19 marlas of land.

Fazle Haq, the lawyer for the decree-holder, submitted before the court that despite the clear decisions of the Supreme Court and PHC in favour of the decree-holder, the district administration failed to implement the order to get the Afghan Market vacated from the National Bank of Afghanistan and other tenants, who are mostly Afghan traders.

It was pointed out in the contempt petition that the bank was collecting more than Rs1.5 million per month through its manager from the 180 shops and it was distributed among the respondent officials, including those from the local revenue and police departments as their due share.

The lawyer informed the bench that at the previous hearing, the PHC had directed the respondents, including the deputy commissioner and the capital city police officer Peshawar to get the market vacated and submit compliance report on September 12.

However, he stated that the respondent officials failed to comply with the court order. After losing the legal battle in the Supreme Court, an official of Afghan National Bank, Safiullah Kajori held a press conference to appeal to the Government of Pakistan and the PHC to review the decision about the ownership of the market in the city as the building had been purchased by the Afghan government in 1946.