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Statement of Sartaj Aziz at National Assembly

Islamabad, June 16, 2016 (PPI-OT):
Honourable Speaker,

I am grateful to you for this opportunity to present before this August House the facts regarding the prevailing situation resulting from the unprovoked firing by the Afghan side on our security forces at the Torkham border crossing, government’s perspective on the issue and our efforts regarding the way forward.

First of all, I would like to briefly state the facts before you. On 12 June 2016, the Afghan security forces started unprovoked firing on Pakistani forces at Torkham border crossing with a view to disrupt the construction of facilities including a gate being undertaken by Pakistan well inside our territory. Eleven Pakistanis including two soldiers and 9 civilians got injured in this firing. On 14 June, one of the officers of Pakistan Army Major Ali Jawad Khan who had been injured in the firing, embraced shahadat.

Pakistani security forces were compelled to retaliate to the firing by the Afghan side. As a result, the border crossing was closed for movement of people as well as vehicular traffic.

On 13 June, Pakistan lodged strong protest with the Afghan Government calling in their Charge d’Affaires to the Ministry on the unprovoked firing at Pakistani forces for disputing the construction work on our side and urged the Afghan Government to put an end to the firing.

Later in the same day, the Afghan Government lodged a protest with our Ambassador in Kabul contending that the construction work being carried out by Pakistani side was a violation of agreements and understandings.

Yesterday, on 15 June, following the shahadat of Major Ali Jawad Khan and continued firing from Afghan forces, Foreign Secretary called in the Afghan Ambassador to the Ministry and, while conveying Pakistan’s strong protest, urged the Afghan side to take immediate steps to put an end to the firing. It was also conveyed to the Afghan Envoy that Pakistan was undertaking these works on its side for effective border management, there was no violation by Pakistan of any agreements or understandings and Afghan Government’s cooperation in regulating the movements across the border would contribute to enhancing mutual security and combating terrorism.

Mr. Speaker,

I will now elaborate three key elements of Pakistan’s perspective on this whole issue:

One, Pakistan believes effective border management is key for enhancing security of both the countries by checking the infiltration of terrorists and militants across this around 2,500 km long Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This measure is also vital for our efforts to combat terrorism. It requires regulating the movement of people across the border by having proper documentation for crossing the border. The Government is working on a plan to achieve this objective all along Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

As a first step, the Government has introduced these border controls at Torkham with effect from 1st June 2016. In this regard, a series of construction works including fence, pedestrian lanes, overhead bridges, and gates on crossing points are being undertaken. It is important to underline that all these works are being undertaken on Pakistani side of the zero line.

For instance, the gate being constructed is at a distance of 31 meters. In fact, the previous record shows that a gate already existed at this location until 2004. The gate and associated works are meant to install and upgrade necessary facilities for regulating the movement of people and vehicles, as is the normal practice on the border crossings all over the world. A layout of the border gate was released by the ISPR earlier this week.

Two, Pakistan has not violated any bilateral agreement or norms of international law. The works involving fence, pedestrian lanes, overhead bridges and gates on crossing point started on 5 November 2014. However, at the end of November 2014 when Afghan side raised objections regarding these works, Pakistan engaged with Afghan authorities at the level of border and security agencies to take them into confidence about these works.

Since then, Pakistan has shared the information about these works with relevant Afghan authorities and they have been conveying their agreement on these works since these are being undertaken on Pakistani side of the border. About two months ago, we also conveyed to Afghan authorities that with effect from 1st June, Pakistan will implement documented movements across the Torkham border crossing. This was also adequately publicized by our Embassy in Kabul for the benefit of Afghan public.

It may be recalled that last disruption of movement at Torkham took place in the beginning of May 2016 on the same issue. Afghan Ambassador met senior Pakistani security officials including COAS. It was agreed that Afghan side will allow the completion of construction works at Torkham to regulate movement of people and traffic while Pakistan will allow the smooth flow of traffic across the border crossing, while the works continued. Pakistan has continued to honour this understanding, till the unprovoked firing from Afghan forces disrupted the movements on 12 June.

It is also important to dispel the impression being created by Afghanistan that Pakistan was violating any bilateral agreement or understanding. In fact, the understanding has been reached between relevant authorities of the two countries several times during past one year that Pakistan will continue the construction work on its side while allowing the smooth flow of traffic. We remain committed to this understanding. In any case, undertaking any construction work on our side is the prerogative of the Government of Pakistan. There is no restriction on such work under any bilateral agreement or international law.

Three, there has been no aggression or provocation by Pakistan. Pakistan has consistently reiterated that it is undertaking these works on its side with a view to regulate movements across border. The unprovoked firing was initiated by the Afghan side to which Pakistan was forced to retaliate. As a result, Pakistan has sustained casualties of its security personnel as well as civilians including women and children. One of our officers has embraced shahadat. About 180 families have been dislocated and had to be moved to safer places.

As regards, the way forward, let me reaffirm commitment of the Government of Pakistan to complete the construction works at Torkham which are part of our plan for strengthening border controls and regulate the movements across the border. We would like to reiterate that effective border management is vital for enhancing the security of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is also important for our efforts for combating the threat of terrorism, as unregulated border movements provide opportunity for infiltration of militants and terrorists across the border which is not in the interest of both countries.

Yesterday I spoke to Mr. Hanif Atmar, National Security Adviser of Afghanistan and invited him and the Foreign Minister Mr. Salahuddin Rabbani to visit Pakistan to discuss these matters and to remove any gaps in communication or understanding. He appreciated the invitation and said he would get back to me on the subject as early as possible.

We have learnt that this morning the firing has stopped. We welcome this development and hope that both sides move forward for early normalization and resumption of normal traffic, while the construction works on Pakistani side continue simultaneously.

In the end, I would like to express Pakistan’s desire for strengthening our brotherly relations with Afghanistan through enhanced bilateral engagement.

Thank you Mr. Speaker

For more information, contact:
Mr. Aizaz Ahmad Ch
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Government of Pakistan
Tell: +92-51-9205494
Fax: +92-51-9204202
Cell: +92-336-5644459
Website: www.mofa.gov.pk

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