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Pakistan Today Editorial – 16th May 2016

Torkham Lessons

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.

PM must act to end stand-off

Showing flexibility

The Chief Justice has directed the government to form a more powerful judicial commission. Setting aside the ToRs suggested by the government, he has directed it to revise them with the implication that this is to be done by taking the critics on board. The army doesn’t want the crisis to go out of hands because this would have a negative impact on the country’s security by taking away the army’s and the government’s attention from the implementation of NAP and the ongoing combing operation.

One expects that both the government and opposition would now hold fire, particularly silencing their loose guns that have achieved little other than vitiating the political atmosphere. Imran Khan’s confession that he too had bought his London apartment in the name of an offshore company to avoid payment of taxes should encourage other politicians from both sides to come clean. After the confession there is also a need on the part of the PTI chief to display a modicum of humility instead of continuing to present himself as a paragon of rectitude.

All eyes are now riveted on the prime minister as he delivers his address in the National Assembly, hopefully followed by a similar exercise in the Senate. One expects Nawaz Sharif to play the leading role in ending the ongoing standoff. The least he is supposed to do is to show readiness to hold talks with the opposition to reduce tensions. The government had earlier hinted at holding delegation level talks with the opposition. The parleys should be centred on two issues. First: the formation of an independent and powerful judicial commission through fresh legislation. Second: formulation of ToRs jointly by the government and the opposition. The talks can succeed only if both sides are willing to show flexibility. The answer to the opposition’s seven questions must come during the judicial commission’s proceedings. The parliament, however, should not be used to initiate another long-drawn-out Warren Hastings style of trial.

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