ISLAMABAD - Landlocked Afghanistan has used a regional summit to call on Pakistan to reopen formal border crossings between the two countries, saying barriers on trade, transit and the movement of people defy stated objectives of promoting economic cooperation among participating nations.
Islamabad, which hosted Wednesday’s summit of the 10-nation Economic Cooperation Organization, or ECO, sealed all of the border two weeks ago, alleging militants planned and executed recent terrorist attacks across the country from Afghan soil.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Shaif chaired the meeting where the presidents of Iran and Turkey, as well as several Central Asian states, were also in attendance.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal, who represented his government at the conference, underscored the need for separating economics from politics to promote the ECO mission of regional connectivity for economic prosperity.
“They [border crossings with Pakistan] have now been closed for about two weeks, causing enormous hardship to ordinary people and damage to traders on both sides. We cannot be for regional connectivity if at the same time we continue to implement barriers to trade, transit and movement of people between us,” he said.
Zakhil attended the conference as a special envoy of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
“Honorable Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in the spirit of today’s summit…, it will be the right message if your excellency instruct the opening of our formal trade and transit routes between our two brotherly countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Zakhilwal
Kabul rejects charges that anti-Pakistan militants are using Afghan soil for staging attacks in the neighboring country.
The Afghan government in turn has reiterated its long running allegations that Islamabad harbors sanctuaries and leaders of the Taliban waging a deadly insurgency in Afghanistan, charges Islamabad denies as baseless.
Mutual terrorism allegations have lately prevented the two uneasy neighbors from engaging in official talks to ease tensions.
Pakistan army spokesman, Major-General Asif Ghafoor, on Tuesday called on Afghan authorities to enhance security on their side of the border to prevent terrorist infiltrate into his country, insisting the border closure is not an "indefinite" measure.
"There are some things Afghanistan should be doing before the border reopens that can be decided through shared discussions, so that when the border reopens, no one from our side should be able to go there and no one from their side should be able to come here for terrorism."
Pakistani officials were hoping for the Afghan president to attend Wednesday’s ECO summit and billboards displayed at the meeting included Ghani's picture along with other leaders.
But the rise in tensions prompted Ghani to skip the event and so did the Afghan foreign minister, who Pakistani officials say had confirmed his participation days before the summit.