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Torkham gate to be inaugurated on Aug 1

By Baqir Sajjad Syed 2016-07-26
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will inaugurate next week a newly-constructed gate at the Torkham crossing point on the Pak-Afghan border, possibly signalling the end of a long-running violent border row between the two neighbouring countries.

`The gate is near completion and will be inaugurated on Aug 1,` Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Defence Maj Gen Abid Nazir told the Senate Defence Committee on Monday.

Clashes between Pakistani and Afghan security forces over the construction of the border gate last month left four soldiers dead on both sides, including Frontier Corp`s Major Ali Jawad Changezi. The clashes kept Torkham, one of the busiest crossing points between the two countries and used by between 15,000 and 20,000 people and hundreds of vehicles daily, closed for six days.

Work on the construction of the gate and allied facilities began in 2014, but Afghan reservations over border regulation kept causing delays. At least 10 border flag meetings have been held between local commanders since 2015 for resolving the matter, in addition to several other interactions at higher level, the ministry official informed the Senate committee, which was holding a hearing on border clashes.

The Afghan government has traditionally opposed Pakistani moves to regulate the border. Pakistani authorities, meanwhile, insist that border regulation is crucial for curbing cross-border terrorist movement in both ways.

Pakistan plans to have similar border control measures at all six major crossing points between the two countries that share a 2,600km-long porous border. Additionally, there are about 200 crossing routes which are not frequently used because of difficult terrain and absence of roads. At least 88 of them are accessible only through jeeps.

Afghanistan, the Senate committee was told, was on board about the planned inauguration.

The announcement about inauguration of the border gate came a day before a Pakistani delegation led by Director General Military Operations Maj Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza is scheduled to visit Kabul for technical level talks under a newly-formed high-level ministerial mechanism for consultation and coordination on border management issues.

Under the new border management system, only people with valid travel documents will be allowed to cross the border.

Similarly, members of local Shinwari clan holding `rahdari passes` under `easement rights` will only be allowed to go up to Shaheed Mor.

Closed-circuit television cameras, baggage and vehicle scanners and other security equipment are being installed, in addition to fencing for preventing unauthorised crossings. Officials from federal agencies,including customs, FIA and Nadra, will man the crossing point.

`Both Pakistan and Afghanistan now agree in principle that border management is critical,` Defence Secretary retired Lt Gen Alam Khattak told the Senate committee about the newfound understanding. But he said that border incidents in future could not be completely ruled out.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who made a rare appearance at the Senate Defence Committee, assured the senators that Pakistan would go ahead with border management because terrorism could not be effectively controlled without it.

`It is our right to control the traffic. ...

Same restrictions would apply on traffic bound for Afghanistan,` he said.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, while chairing the meeting,underlined that the relationship with Afghanistan was one of the most pivotal relationships for Pakistan`s national security and foreign policy and it was imperative that the channels of communication be kept open with Afghanistan at all levels.

He also referred to a security dialogue held between the Senate Defence Committee and its counterpart in Afghanistan`s parliament and said he felt that this inter-parliamentary security dialogue should be revived to restore confidence between the people and parliaments of the two countries. He also proposed that the Senate Defence Committee visit the Torkham border post.

CONDOLENCES: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif telephoned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to condole deaths in a bombing in Kabul on Saturday that left about 80 people dead, said a statement issued by the Prime Minister Office.

`Pakistan remains strongly committed to deepen cooperation with Afghanistan in fighting the scourge of terrorism, which is a common enemy,` Mr Sharif told President Ghani.

The Afghan president said the two countries were together in the fight against terrorism.