While tensions are still rife on the state level, the Pakistani and Afghan members of the parliament, former officials, members of the civil society and media persons are holding active dialogues in Islamabad to come up with solutions on ending bilateral tensions. Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) Islamabad and Kabul-based Women & Peace Studies Organisation (WPSO) are organising the “Pakistan-Afghanistan track 1.5 & II project Beyond Boundaries.” The same project, many say, was influential in the recent re-opening of Afghan border crossing by Pakistan, which was closed in the aftermath of a series of terrorist attacks in the country.
Imtiaz Gul, the Executive Director of CRSS, believes that the current series of dialogues are an effort to develop understanding of mutual issues, along with improving the public narrative in both the countries. CRSS and WPSO believes that forum could act as a bridge to bring together both the governments and also promote active people to people contacts between the two countries. In their previous meetings, delegates from both the sides have met officials both in Kabul and Islamabad, and discussed issues of mutual concern.
The group today met Sartaj Aziz, PM’s adviser on Foreign Affairs, and discussed how bilateral ties could be improved between both the countries. Aziz thanked the CRSS for continuing the Track 1.5/2 diplomacy initiatives in difficult times. He said the utility of such initiatives is beyond doubt and should continue in future. He further added that Pakistan could only help if Afghanistan has a clear strategy for peace talks, and shares it with Islamabad. He also remarked that Afghan expectations from Pakistan could only be materialised in an environment of trust and not in hostility, loaded with allegations.
During their recent meetings, the delegates from both sides called on both the countries to exercise restraint in the current situation in the larger interest of the people of the two countries, as ongoing tensions were hurting people and businesses on both sides. The delegates also spoke at the NUST University in Islamabad, on the topic “Pak-Afghan Relations:Explaining Perspectives”.
The delegates for this round of meetings from the Pakistani side include members of the parliament, Shazia Marri and Ayesha Gulalai, former ambassadors Qazi Humayun and Mian Sanaullah, former corps commander Peshawar Lt General (retd) Asif Yasin and former Sindh and Balochistan police chief Dr Shoaib Suddle.
The Afghan delegation includes members of parliament Elay Ershad and Khalid Pashtoon, head of executive council of the High Peace Council Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, former Deputy Commerce Minister Mozammil Shinwari, former deputy parliamentary speaker Miwais Yasini, civil society activist and WPSO head Wazmah Frogh, TOLO TV Director Sami Mahdi, and Afghan Civil Society Joint Working Group chairperson and Afghan Women News Agency Executive Officer Humira Saqeb.
Bilateral relations had dipped to a new low after Pakistan slammed the border shut, alleging the Afghan authorities had failed in checking anti-Pakistan terrorists operating out of eastern Afghanistan. On a positive note, Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif ordered the reopening of the closed border on March 20. The order came after the UK special envoy Mark L.Grant hosted a meeting between Pakistan’s advisor on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz and the Afghan National Security Advisor (NSA) Hanif Atmar in London late last week.
Only a day before the tense London meeting, CRSS and its partner organization WPSO convened a meeting of top businessmen from both countries between March 12-15 to discuss the fallout of the closure as well as demand opening of the border. In its five point declaration, the group comprising prominent members of the Pak-Afghan Joint Chambers of Commerce and Industries had urged the Pakistan government to reopen the border. Keeping in view this situation, the forum urged to immediately open the border for the clearance of stranded cargo at Torkham and Spin Boldak to clear the cargo from Karachi port.
The group had also appealed to the government to use the joint group as an advisory mechanism, for advice before taking extreme measures such as closure of borders or revision of economic policies in general. The committee should also be taken into confidence before taking such measures that may hamper the overall business ties. The group also demanded of the Pakistani Ministry of Commerce for a waiver of any applicable port charges (detention / demurrage) applied to Afghan consignments / containers accruing from the closure of the border to limit the monetary losses of the business community.
The current meetings and the border reopening brings a sigh of relief to the business community on both sides of the border, who rely heavily on cross border trade.