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Closing the border

Updated Mar 15, 2017 08:09am


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With thousands of people stranded on both sides and traders unable to move their goods across, the sealing of the border with Afghanistan has created a serious humanitarian crisis. One fails to understand the rationale behind this action that is hurting Afghans as well as Pakistanis. This ‘cutting off the nose to spite the face’ approach is certainly not going to get us anywhere. The entire episode reflects our inability to respond more responsibly in times of crisis.

It is a month now since Pakistani security forces closed the border crossings following the recent wave of terrorist attacks carried out by militants operating from sanctuaries inside Afghanistan. Pakistan has demanded that the Kabul government take action against those groups. The border closure is apparently being used as a pressure tactic.

But this knee-jerk action is counterproductive, and has only complicated the problem further. Not only has the border closing exacerbated the plight of people living on both sides, it will also cost Pakistan’s economy dearly both in the short and long term. The two crossings — Torkham and Chaman — are the major channels of trade and commerce between the two countries.

Nothing positive can be achieved by the extreme and thoughtless measure.

Before the closure, hundreds of trucks and containers mainly carrying foodstuffs such as fruit, meat and milk would pass through these two posts alone. The sealing of the border has also affected the trade and movement of people from other checkpoints in the tribal areas. Thousands of trucks with perishable materials are stuck on both sides for the past one month. According to one estimate, traders from both countries have been losing about four million dollars a day because of the border closing. Pakistani traders are bearing about 80 per cent of those losses.

Read: Border closure hits Pakistani, Afghan traders

The rising tension between the two countries and the drawdown of the US-led coalition forces have already caused a huge drop in our exports to Afghanistan from 2.5 billion to 1.3bn dollars. The exports are expected to go down further with the growing uncertainty caused by this new low in relations between Kabul and Islamabad.

Over the past few years, the volume of Afghan imports from Iran has increased manyfold. Karachi has been the traditional port for the Afghan importers but now many traders have shifted to the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas for foreign trade. Although the distance is much longer, resulting in higher transportation costs, the traders have no choice but to use the only alternate route available.

Moreover, the government is also losing huge revenue because of the closure. According to a report, 500 trucks on average used to cross the border every day, paying Rs10,000 each in customs duty and transit fees. The closure has also affected local traders and those associated with the transportation business. The cumulative losses to the economy by this irrational action are incalculable and it would be extremely difficult to retrieve the situation.

More serious, however, is the political fallout of the closure that has affected common people. Thousands of Afghans cross the border every day not only for business purposes, but also to meet their relatives and even for medical treatment. Hundreds of Afghan children attend schools on the Pakistani side. The volume of traffic at these two border crossings can be judged by the fact that more than 50,000 people crossed over when they were opened for two days. The hardship caused by the closure will certainly not win us the sympathy of the affected population.

One wonders what objective we really wanted to achieve by this extreme and thoughtless measure. It certainly cannot bring the Kabul administration to its knees and force it to hand over the 76 militant leaders allegedly responsible for the terrorist attacks inside our territories.

Certainly our security forces’ concerns regarding cross-border terrorism are understandable. It is true that Pakistan cannot eliminate the threat of violent extremism inside the country without dealing with the free movement of the militants. The Kabul government maintains that the sanctuaries of the Pakistani militants are located in the region where it does not have much control.

But there is also a ring of truth to the allegation that those militants may have some tacit support of elements within the Afghan intelligence, who try to justify it citing the reports about the top Afghan Taliban leaders enjoying sanctuary on Pakistani soil. This tit-for-tat action and ongoing battle of the sanctuaries has created a very dangerous security situation for the entire region.

Extremist organisations such as the militant Islamic State (IS) group have exploited the widening gulf between Kabul and Islamabad to escalate terrorist operations on both sides of the border. Interestingly the group which was behind the latest spell of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has also claimed responsibility for last week’s assault on a Kabul military hospital that killed or injured scores of patients and medical personnel.

This daring attack in a high-security zone heightens concerns over the growing capacity of the global terrorist group to launch such spectacular attacks. Most Afghan security officials, however, doubt the IS claim, maintaining that the highly organised operation with insider support bore the hallmarks of the Haqqani network, the most feared of the Afghan Taliban factions. Whoever may be responsible for the increasing militant violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is alarming. The escalation on the border has certainly provided favourable conditions for the militants.

One of the arguments given by the Pakistani officials to justify the closure is that the measure would help strengthen border management and stop cross-border movement by militants. There is no denying that strict border management is necessary for enhancing our security, but it is not enough to check the movement of terrorists along a 1,500-mile porous border.

Reactive actions such as closing the border in response to terrorist attacks show a lack of maturity. What is needed is to formulate a coherent Afghan policy to deal with a common threat.

The writer is an author and journalist.


Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (39) Closed

IFTIKHAR KHAN Mar 15, 2017 07:24am

If 50,000 people crossed over in two days when the border was open, obviously it is as free as birthright to cross over. Why not do the same at Wagah-Atari border, and benefit much more from trade and tourism?

Syed F. Hussaini Mar 15, 2017 08:37am

During the process of international arbitration, the Afghans would appear armed with an advantage--a real visible existing material grievance in contrast to accusations Pakistan would be asked to substantiate.

The makers of our foreign policy can only be as rational, mature and coherent as the policymakers in any of the other government departments.

mushtaq Mar 15, 2017 08:47am

Hope the rulers will read this column and would really do something better for nation.

ss Mar 15, 2017 08:51am

Security of the citizens must take precedence over all else. The border should be closed permanently.

brr Mar 15, 2017 09:09am

smacks of desperation

Akil Akhtar Mar 15, 2017 09:07am

Do not agree....we should keep the border closed until Afghanistan gives up support to terrorists inside Pakistan. It is our country and we should start having some confidence and self respect rather than always worrying about others...

Akil Akhtar Mar 15, 2017 09:13am

Nothing positive or peaceful can be achieved from keeping the border open either.

aleem Mar 15, 2017 09:49am

To protect lives of our citizen, any step is a good step. You can not provide safe passage to terrorists. This should have been done long time back.

farid Mar 15, 2017 09:46am

The high security official few days back in a meeting categorically said, no any single terrorist has crossed the Torkham crossing point since June, 2016 so then how the Chaman and Torham crossing points are being sealed for indefinite time as there is no rationale for such action.

Shahid murtaza Mar 15, 2017 10:13am

Closing borders is not a solution to daelt with terrorism. We should first of all have to fence the 1500 km long border with Afghanistan and then go for finding the ways we can work together for peaceful coexistence.

anwaar malikk Mar 15, 2017 10:40am

Security is important than economy.

salman Mar 15, 2017 10:41am

@Akil Akhtar Very good!

saudagar Mar 15, 2017 10:43am

@IFTIKHAR KHAN no worries sir ! before 2019 elections both ns and nm will find permanent solution , if not , may be nm and ik 2020 .

Aslum shaikh Mar 15, 2017 11:48am

@ss Agree. Keep the border closed

Aleem Mar 15, 2017 12:01pm

@ss Agree 100%

Mohammad aryubi Mar 15, 2017 12:14pm

Suffice it to say that, sealing the transit trade routes by the Pakistani security has ben an utterly insensible move that the ordinary Afghans deem it an obvious act of animus that would lead to consequences, and would trigger long-term far more serious problems for Pakistan in its relations with Afghanistan, that is destined to endanger regional security and stability.

A. A. Mar 15, 2017 12:36pm

I, for one, fully support the closure of the border with Afghanistan even if it means loss of revenue.

mywahala Mar 15, 2017 12:54pm

@brr unable to confirm that unless I knew what closed the border really meant.

qamberali Mar 15, 2017 01:24pm

although the main port of ATTA will remain Karachi, but the trade is shifting to Iran as pointed out by writer. so our this action is further strengthening india and Iran push for chah bahar port for Afghanistan trade

LALAT Mar 15, 2017 01:31pm

Closing the border point as if the terrorists cross over after passport control & immigration. Ridiculous!!

Ind Mar 15, 2017 02:04pm

No solution is given by writer, just criticism is not required

Well Meaning Mar 15, 2017 03:33pm

wait for chabahar to open even this leverage will disappear

Voice of Sanity Mar 15, 2017 03:50pm

As an Afghan, I second the thoughts of Pakistanis here who want the border to remain closed. Security comes first above economy for us Afghans too.

sleemalax Mar 15, 2017 04:16pm

I have read your article, it is very informative and helpful for me.I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. Thanks for posting it

imtiaz ali khan Mar 15, 2017 04:26pm

Sad to see the suffering on the border, so many people and trucks loaded with items are sitting/wasting all the perishable items.

Madeeh Mar 15, 2017 05:09pm

Don't close the border, increase the transit fee so that the cost of transit becomes 75-80% of the Iranian route. Or just double them.

F Khan Mar 15, 2017 05:41pm

I agree, like India got nothing except hate and condemnation by sealing the nepalese border.It's counter productive.Surgical strikes is a better option with or without Afghanistan consent.

Sonny afridi Mar 15, 2017 05:44pm

@Voice of Sanity please take your refugees as well. Your government kindly offered to fly them out on charter flights. We Pakistanis will even pay for the jet fuel and provide the aircrafts.

Iftikhar Husain Mar 15, 2017 05:59pm

All this trouble on th border is due to the attitude of Afghan government who are unfriendly with Pakistan the reason they know best. They treat Pakistan as an enemy while Pakistan is hosting all that refugees for such a long time. This is not a fair treatment.

Faisal Mar 15, 2017 06:17pm

Go ask the relatives of those effected with the terror attacks caused by opened border. They weren't getting anything out of the revenue we were getting before it was closed.

hk Mar 15, 2017 06:19pm

Afghans are ever unthankful and not sincere to Pakistan and would always remain. The border should be opened but only after putting in place proper visa system.Trade with Afghanistan is important but only legitimate trade. Pakistan has suffered a lot through ATT and smuggling with Afghanistan. Its also a fact that the there are local facilitators and must be taken to task without any discrimination and it's not likely to happen. Hence we shall keep on moving in circles.

Afghan-Pashtun Mar 15, 2017 06:27pm

@Akil Akhtar : If US the global super power couldn't pressure Pakistan to give up Haqqani network and Quetta shura. What makes you think the border closure will pressure Afghan government? Will only increase hostility among the local Afghan people.

Feroz Mar 15, 2017 07:03pm

I would be very happy if the border is permanently closed, trade would fall and Iran/India would expedite connectivity through Chabahar. Afghanistan has to make sure that Pakistan cannot connect with Central Asia till connectivity is provided to Afghanistan with other countries in South Asia. Let China also feel the heat and understand why connectivity across Asia is held up.

Khwarizmi Mar 15, 2017 07:59pm

I beg to differ. The border should be sealed 100% as Afghanistan has become a hostile territory. There is nothing in Afghanistan that is to be desired. Refugees must be sent back on urgent basis.

asif Ali Mar 15, 2017 08:07pm

What about American muslim ban ?

MUSHY ALI Mar 15, 2017 08:11pm

If closing the border is "cutting off the nose to spite the face" approach employed by Pakistan and it has caused great humanitarian crisis then what about the humanitarian crisis caused by menace of terrorism in Pakistan? What about the 76 militants wanted by Pakistan? If closure of border is not appropriate then what pressure tactic Pakistan should employ?

junaid waheed Mar 15, 2017 08:41pm

Afghanistan is being more affected than Pak .. This kinda article should be read by afghan Govt, they should realize the matter firstly.Stopping the movement across the border at least make them realize the importance of ties with Pak.Ashraf Ghani barks against Pak whenever he visits India, so at least he would be knowing the importance of Pak after the closure.

shakaibul Hassan Mar 16, 2017 09:06am

Money is nothing in front of honor and dignity money can come and go in the form of loss and profit but honor and dignity once stigmatize very hard to recover.

krish Mar 17, 2017 08:26am

Good to see that Pakistan is closing itself from its neighbours. Afghanistan will find another route for trading through iran eventually and that will leave it to become stronger and come out of any dependence on pakistan, leaving it free to fight pakistan's negative policies in a focussed manner.