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`Pakistan not violating any agreement at Torkham`

By Hassan Belal Zaidi 2016-06-17
ISLAMABAD: The government told parliament on Thursday that the construction of a gate at the Torkham border crossing did not violate any bilateral agreements, understandings or stipulations of international law, as claimed by the Afghan government.

In separate policy statements to both houses of parliament, senior government figures also said that both countries were seeking high-level dialogue to resolve the issue.

The Prime Minister`s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz told the National Assembly that regulating the movement of people across the border was essential to the country`s internal security and, as a first step, border controls were being put in place at Torkham.

Works such as the `construction of gates and bridges` were necessary to `regulate the movement of people and vehicles from the border post`, as was the norm at any international border post, he said.

He said there had been no aggression by Pakistan, adding that a commitment with the Afghans provided that Pakistan could continue construction on its side of the zero line, while allowing traffic to flow smoothly through the crossing.

Mr Aziz said he has invited the Afghan national security adviser and foreign minister to discuss the matter, and that they have promised to get back on the invitation.

`Border management is a critical requirement for both countries` security and stability concerns,` he concluded.

In the Senate, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said, `[Pakistan] has complaints, as does the Afghan side. They claim the terrorists come from Pakistan, we say they come from Afghanistan. Border management [systems] can help eliminate these concerns on both sides.` He told the upper house that while the Afghan government is seeking top-level negotiations to resolve the issue, Islamabad has not consented thus far. `We have no quarrel with Afghanistan, but our enemies want there to be tensions between us.

He said there were three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan `who have made a deep mark on our economy, socialfabric and infrastructure. If they were not here, there would be no Quetta Shura, nor any talk of the H aqqani ne twork`.

Sparing none The tone for Thursday`s sitting of the National Assembly was set by veteran parliamentarian Mehmood Khan Achakzai, who seemed to be in an unforgiving mood as he took the floor.

`There is talk of introducing the presidential system of government here, which is against the spirit of the Constitution. Anyone who speaks against the Constitution is liable to be tried for treason,` was his edict for the opposition benches.

Taking the government to task, he said: `There are no conquerors or conquered here; we are all equal citizens. We are told [by the government] that `you havebeen given this and that`. I say [smaller provinces] are the ones who are running this federation. You consider these federating units your colonies! The chief of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party also spoke up for the rights of women, calling for a law to punish those who did not give their daughters their due share in inheritance. `Let the Pashtuns, Baloch and Seraiki-speakers obtain basic education in their own language; your literacy rate will skyrocket, he maintained.

He decried the phobia of Afghans that had permeated Pakistani society, saying: `If you don`t like Afghans in Punjab or in Sindh, send them to [Balochistan].

But he was adamant that `we won`t let anyone disturb [Afghans], nor will we let [Pashtun] children be terrorised under the guise of anti-Afghan operations`. He claimed that over 100,000 Pashtuns had been deprived of their identity cards on suspicion of being Afghan nationals.

Fata reforms Stressing the need for reforms in the tribal areas, Fata MNA Dr Ghazi GulabJamal complained that those currently holding the reins of government in Fata were bureaucrats, while the most powerful person in the area was the political agent; both of whom were unelected and 99pc of whom were not Fata residents.

`The people of Oral
He also suggested that whatever changes were to be introduced under the Fata reforms should be evolutionary, because revolutionary changes may prove difficult to accept for the already-troubled people of the tribal areas.

Govt performance In her speech, Parliamentary Secretary for Interior MaryamAurangzebcounted the government`s achievements, listing the enactment of the Protection of Pakistan Act (PoPA), policies on explosives and arms licensing, the activation of the National Alien Registration Authority, the formalisation of a policy on the Exit Control List and the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP).She also claimed that the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) had been allocated Rs1.87 billion in the budget, adding that it would be made responsible for NAP implementation, as well as the custodian of a new joint intelligence directorate.

However, what was not mentioned in her speech was the state of progress on these various measures. For example, the PoPA lay dormant for several months after its passage, while the first court established under the new law only recently started working in Lahore earlier this year.

Touting the success of the Benazir Income Support Programme, PML-N`s Marvi Memon mounted a defence of Ishaq Dar`s `pro-poor budget`. However, most of the macroeconomic growth indicators that she went on to list had little or nothing to do with the welfare of the impoverished classes.

Ms Memon said that when she was in opposition, comments were also made about her person. `But I never turned it into a feminist issue, I responded to them in the same coin,` referring to Shireen Mazari`s stance over the remarks made by Khawaja Asif earlier in the session.