Torkham Lessons

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For both sides

 

 

A number of important lessons have come out of the recent Torkham border closure incident. One, of course, is that the Afghan ambassador finally knocked at the right door after a number of necessary back-and-forths. Two, that the fence is a reality. It is unfortunate that a little bit of arm twisting was needed to get the Afghans to really agree; but if there is a better idea than fencing at the moment, nobody has yet presented it. Afghanistan is itself fed up enough with continuous crossings over the 2,600km porous border, and Kabul should be on board with any arrangement that plugs holes – at least till the war is over.

The third is that the people need regulated border movement. Afghans, especially, rely on the crossing for access to crucial medical and educational facilities. Both sides witnessed as people’s miseries mounted over the four days that Torkham remained closed. And in the unfortunate case that there is a repeat performance, the people might not be so easily forgiving. And four: the states also suffer, especially their commerce ministries. Nobody liked the sight of goods rotting at the border because outstanding political differences needed to be settled. All these factors must no doubt have been debated as the two sides frantically looked for a way to break the ice over the last few days.

It is now important to develop a long term framework for handling these issues. There are still too many unknowns in the Pak-Afghan equation. After Ghani’s recent breaking off from the peace process, even the fate of the QCG (quadrilateral coordination group) is uncertain. It is, therefore, imperative that Kabul and Islamabad initiate a quantifiable de-escalation if both countries are to wrap up their civil wars anytime soon. Islamabad must do everything in its power to address Kabul’s feeling of estrangement. And the Afghans, too, must learn to be less sceptical of every move that Pakistan makes in this great game. Both have so far been largely at odds throughout this long war. They must, for once, work together or this fight will linger for a long time.