EDITORIAL: Ending the 10-day shutdown of the Torkham border will soothe the retail market and keep commodity prices from rising any further, no doubt, but this problem is far from over and it is surprising that it took so long to find what is still a temporary fix.

Pakistani authorities first warned and then barred (on Jan 23) Afghan traders without valid documentation from crossing the border, following which Afghanistan decided to place a ban of its own.

The breakdown was traced to shortage of passport printing material in Afghanistan, which is delaying provision of necessary travel documents to transporters. And this problem is already a few months old, so it’s difficult to tell if things would be alright by end-March – the maximum relaxation on visa conditions allowed by Pakistan. Customs officials rightly let trucks with perishable goods to pass first, because much of their load would have gone bad already.

That talks lingered for 10 days, even as eatables rotted on the border and prices rose amid unprecedented food inflation, shows that even routine negotiations are not going smoothly between Islamabad and Kabul.

Pakistan’s concerns about valid documentation are understandable, especially since it not only involves implementation of international law but also reflects its concerns about militants crossing the border. But Afghanistan’s response, banning Pakistani goods from entering their country, smacks of a tit-for-tat approach which is not good for the bilateral relationship.

This is just one more example of how ordinary people suffer because of repeated breakdowns in communication between the two governments. Things like transporters indefinitely stuck at the border, farmers’ produce going waste, and people paying extra for food when they already face the highest prices of their lives must be avoided, especially when the real problem has been identified.

In the past, Pakistan has also suffered from lack of passport paper and other materials and should be able to work out an interim arrangement till Afghanistan scrambles for supplies. But that will not be possible till Kabul first cooperates on such matters, especially since its own failures are causing problems in this instance.

Clearly, all such paralysis stems from the awkward negotiations about cross-border security, especially the fate of TTP fighters headquartered inside Afghanistan. There would have been no problem, in any area, if the Taliban regime had only honoured its promise of sorting TTP out after Pakistan facilitated the American withdrawal in Doha. But since TTP promptly restarted its insurgency, and the Taliban did nothing about it, and then one thing led to another, now we have difficulties in regular communications as well. To make matters worse, Taliban fighters have often broken down border barriers to provoke the Pakistani side.

The time has come for both sides to understand the urgency of the situation and press the reset button. They must realise that neighbours need to find solutions instead of identifying problems. There should be no more disruption of the retail trade that communities on both sides rely on for their survival. Hopefully, everything needed will be done to avoid border closures in future.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024


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