Pakistan says it has “amicably resolved” a dispute with Afghanistan over the construction of a controversial border gate, the latest in a series of incidents straining an already fragile bilateral relationship that many consider vital to promoting the Afghan peace process.
Known as the Durand Line, the 2,400-kilometer, porous stretch of border is recognized by Pakistan but not by Afghanistan, and it remains a major irritant between the two countries.
Authorities in Kabul have lately accused Pakistan's military of constructing a new gate in a border area inside the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, a charge Islamabad denies.
On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered his top officials to take immediate action to remove the gate and nearly a dozen other Pakistani installations built on the Afghan border.
Speaking to reporters in Kabul on Monday, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi maintained that no construction activity on the border can be initiated unless approved by both the countries.
Azimi says that “establishing a gate by Pakistan on the Durand Line and inside Afghanistan is against all international norms as well as bilateral understandings."
Azimi was addressing reporters together with Gunter Katz, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). General Azimi alleged that Pakistani border forces transferred 11 checkpoints across the Durand Line.
Katz says the coalition is looking into the issue but refused to make further comments.
“ISAF continues to monitor the situation at the border and we remain in dialogue with the Afghan and Pakistani side on a constructive way ahead,” he said.
In a surprise development on Monday, Pakistan declared the dispute had been resolved after an unannounced meeting between senior military commanders of both countries in Rawalpindi, where the Pakistani army is headquartered.
An official statement said that the Afghan delegation, led by Director General Military Operations Major General Afzal Aman, had discussed and amicably resolved the border post construction with his Pakistani counterpart. The Pakistani statement also repeated that the construction is taking place in the Pakistani tribal district of Mohmand that borders Afghanistan.
“[We are] hopeful that the situation would calm down,” said Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Islamabad’s foreign ministry spokesman, explaining that both countries will shortly hold a joint high-level meeting focusing on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Recent Afghan statements perceived as being anti-Pakistan have angered officials in Islamabad says Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador.
“Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States will have to work together to find the kind of outcome that I am sure each one of them wants, which is a peaceful and stable Afghanistan," she said. "So challenge is great, time is short, and there are many obstacles, including President Karzai’s own behavior.”
Diplomats and analysts in Islamabad say tense relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan could complicate efforts to bring about the orderly withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table to end the Afghan conflict.