The Afghan consulate closure in Peshawar belies a deep resentment
It has been almost 10 days since the Afghan consulate in Peshawar closed down indefinitely in protest by the Afghan Mission in Pakistan after a building was raided and occupied by local police, near one of the busiest market places in the northwestern Pakistani city.
The building, with its nearly 300 shops, has been claimed by the Afghan mission as their property for several decades, but a court case was pending regarding its ownership. Some time ago, the court gave a verdict on the basis of which the district administration proceeded to take possession of the building. During the police operation that followed, hundreds of shops were sealed and the Afghan flag was removed.
The fact is, Peshawar is home to many properties that are claimed by and belong to the Afghan government since the British colonial period. One such building was located in the famous Qissa khani bazaar – in the heart of the old city.
To understand Afghanistan’s reasons for taking a diplomatic step as serious as closing down its consulate, the timing must be considered. As long as Afghanistan was a stable country with strong governments, this and such properties were never contested. But with the decline of systems following long civil wars and insurgencies in Afghanistan, the ownership of high value properties came into dispute, while a lack of historical records fuelled suspicions. Litigation followed.
But the fact is, there was a different way to seek solutions other than through judicial interventions alone. Mediation in fact, is the only good option in sensitive cases with international repercussions.
Before more damage is caused and a diplomatic row erupts between the two countries, relevant officials should be mandated to meet and find a dignified solution to the problem so the consulate is reopened as soon as possible.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
For one, a board representing both parties could have been set up to determine the exact status of the property. On the basis of its findings, a way out could have been chosen in the spirit of accommodation, and with regard to the Pakistani values of hospitality and willingness, all to help the diplomatic mission of a country in deep trouble due to unending conflict.
But sanity did not prevail, and the consulate was closed down as a mark of the disappointment of the Afghan diplomatic staff in Peshawar.
Needless to say, the closure adversely affects businesses in the city, but most importantly, in the larger diplomatic context, it will be seen as an unfriendly act by Afghanistan. And the impression, which is already being created, will rise: that Pakistan is taking advantage of a messy and troubled political scenario in Afghanistan.
This is also the reason many Afghans, including the Afghan government, view the fencing of the Pak-Afghan border as an act that will bring misery to the people living close to the other side. Fencing will erect barriers between families and relatives, and block trade and commerce.
Dealing with foreign diplomatic missions is the responsibility of the Foreign Office. In the case of the re-possessed building, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have gone out of its way to avoid a situation as embarrassing as resorting to a police raid on properties claimed by the Afghan Mission. Again, mediation would have been a wiser course to adopt, considering the enormous sensitivity of Pakistan’s often difficult relationship with Afghanistan.
Before more damage is caused and a diplomatic row erupts between the two countries, relevant officials should be mandated to meet and find a dignified solution to the problem so the consulate is reopened as soon as possible, and the large number of visa seekers do not have to travel to the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad, especially as winter approaches.
Not only that, there should be a mechanism in place to resolve issues that arise from time to time, one which embodies the spirit of understanding and respect for each other’s position. Issues like the closure of an important diplomatic mission and the fencing of the border could lead to a deep seated resentment that borders on hostility and that does not augur well for good neighbourly relations.
Following the border fencing, there are sure to be a large number of disputes between owners of properties and assets on both sides of the border, and the two countries are best advised to set up a permanent body of officials and representatives of border tribes to consider and dispose of any such disputes in accordance with local customs. This could help reduce the anger and resentment that currently pervades the atmosphere on both sides of the border.
– Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.