The US has ruled out mediation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and asked the two countries to work together to deescalate tensions at the Torkham border crossing where deadly clashes this week have killed two Afghan and one Pakistani border guard and wounded 20 on both sides.
“We are obviously very concerned by the border clashes, particularly around the Torkham crossing. We want both sides to ratchet down the violence and begin a dialogue to try to reduce the tensions, keep the crossing open, and have it done peaceably,” the State Department Spokesman, John Kirby told reporters at his daily news conference.
Underlining that the US believes that the right approach is an Afghan-led reconciliation process, he said, “We continue to support (Afghan) President (Ashraf) Ghani as he continues to try to get that process back on track. Now what effect the border clashes are having on reconciliation, I don’t know.”
“I haven’t seen any practical effect of it to date. These clashes have only just popped up in recent days. But that aside, we still want to see the reconciliation process move forward,” Kirby said as he ruled out the US jumping in as a mediator between the two countries.
“We have not taken a mediation role, and we have talked about this before. This is an Afghan-led process. We obviously support it and we want to see it succeed. We have expressed that support privately and publicly.
But this is President Ghani’s initiative; he’s taking it on. We know he wants to get it back on track and we fully support him in that effort, but this is not for the United States mediating between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said.
The US, he said, wants Afghanistan and Pakistan to work through these differences bilaterally, which they can do because they have done it in the past.
“This isn’t the first time that we have seen clashes even at that crossing, and they have been able to work through it in the past and we are absolutely confident that, with moral courage on both sides, they can continue to work through it,” he said.
Observing that the US does not want to see this kind of violence between the two sides, Kirby said there are plenty of shared threats and common challenges between Afghanistan and Pakistan and plenty of reasons for them to look for ways to work together.
“They have made some progress in terms of cooperation across that border and communication and in counterterrorism efforts,” he said.
“So nobody likes to see the clashes and the violence that we have seen to date, but it’s too soon to say, well, just because there’s been some of this, that the whole reconciliation process should be just thrown out the window, or that the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan are irreconcilable and therefore not worth continuing to pursue dialogue and cooperation. We are just not there yet,” Kirby said.
Torkham, a usually busy crossing, has remained closed because of continuing tensions.
Pakistan alleged that “unprovoked” firing was started by Afghanistan’s security forces when construction work began on a new gate on the Pakistani side.
Last month, the border crossing was sealed for several days over the construction of the gate, causing hardships to thousands of people who cross it every day.
Afghan government does not recognise the border, which is also known as Durand Line, and it opposes permanent structure.