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Closed border crossing

May 15, 2017

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EVEN for a relationship that has historically been uneasy, ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan have reached a new low with the latter’s deadly May 5 attack on villages on this side of the border in the vicinity of the Chaman crossing in Balochistan. The crossing has remained closed since then, and the event has left the inhabitants of these areas terrified with many of them having been displaced from their homes. It is encouraging, then, that the operations chiefs of the militaries of both countries held a face-to-face meeting recently and agreed to end the acrimony as well as to make efforts towards building cooperative relations. The ISPR announced on Friday that a two-star Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral meeting had been held at GHQ in Rawalpindi. However, even before this announcement was made, the security forces of both countries traded fire across the border in Kurram Agency in the northwest that left at least two Pakistani soldiers wounded — an unfortunate occurrence that holds the potential of pulling the talks process back. While that should not be allowed to happen, the related issue of the closure of the Chaman border crossing must be resolved immediately.

The fact is that thousands of people are reliant on that crossing, for the exchange of goods and for their livelihoods; shutting it down amounts to punishing the very people who have already been grievously harmed by the events of May 5. A local trade leader in Chaman city told this newspaper that some 30,000 of his colleagues cross the border every day to work inside Afghanistan, and that as a result of the closure, many families have no source of income. It is such humanitarian concerns that ought to motivate the government into reopening the crossing. Consider, for example, that even at times when Pakistani and Indian forces are trading fire across the Line of Control, when diplomatic relations are acrimonious, the Wagah border crossing has remained open. The people must not be held hostage to what is happening between the two countries in the realm of diplomacy. Especially for the people living in the Chaman area, for whom cross-border movement is a part of daily life, it amounts to having been punished not once but twice — and for no fault of theirs. Better sense must prevail; Pakistan must now reopen the border so that the affected population can resume their normal routine.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2017