TORKHAM -- Pakistani and Afghan security officials Wednesday (April 18) conferred to express their resolve in maintaining peace at the border through increased and ongoing co-operation, security sources told Pakistan Forward.
The flag meeting at the Torkham border crossing, led by Lt. Col. Arshad of Pakistan and Lt. Col. Waheed of Afghanistan, comes after a brief flare-up of fighting along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border earlier this week.
Clashes between Afghan border police and members of Pakistan's Frontier Corps broke out Sunday (April 15) in Zazi Maidan District, in Khost Province, Afghanistan, which borders Kurram Agency in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
A truce was established later in the day through mediation by tribal elders.
The flag meeting is an important step in improving neighbourly relations, officials and security analysts from both sides say.
"Such meetings will bring the two countries together," Hikmat Safi, an advisor to Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, told Pakistan Forward. "It will defuse tension between the two countries as the recent border [clash] has been resolved."
"Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have improved since the visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to Kabul," he added.
Security officials participating in the flag meeting were updated on Pakistan's fencing of the border and the implementation of the Web Based One Customs (WeBOC) system, which aims to streamline customs clearing at the border.
A proposal from Afghan security officials to keep the Torkham border crossing open for movement until 9pm also was discussed, according to officials. Torkham now closes at 8pm.
The flag meeting was part of other efforts aimed at preventing clashes along the border, which benefit only terrorists.
"After talks between Afghan and Pakistani border security officials, there is now no fighting along the border," Gen. Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesperson for Afghanistan's Defence Ministry, told Pakistan Forward.
"Officials from both countries have agreed in Kabul to prevent any violations across the border, and we are committed to that agreement," he said.
"We also hope Pakistan stays committed," Radmanesh said.
"We have always said that terrorism is not in the interest of any country," he said. "Governments should help each other in the fight against terrorism, and having a good relationship between two countries can be very effective in this regard."
"Problems have to be resolved through dialogue. Mutual understanding between two countries is the best way to fight terrorism and ensure peace and stability," he said.
Importance of flag meetings
Flag meetings are crucial to normalising relations along the border, security analysts say.
Fencing and border management are important for monitoring the cross-border movement of terrorists and for maintaining security in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, a Peshawar-based security analyst and former security secretary for FATA.
"Discussions on border security between Afghan and Pakistani security officials and advance communications between border security officials can be helpful in averting violent incidents," Shah told Pakistan Forward.
"Violent clashes between Afghan and Pakistani security officials can hurt the joint war on terror and can be avoided with regular flag meetings on the border," he said.
"It would help ease tension along the Kurram Agency border too," he said.
Flag meetings are essential to ease tension that results from a lack of communication, said Prof. Syed Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi, chairman of the international relations department at the University of Peshawar.
"Both Pakistan and Afghanistan must have more such interactions at all levels," he told Pakistan Forward. "They would help avoid such violent acts like the one in Kurram Agency recently and maintain calm on the long border."
Such flag meetings should take place every week or at least every month to help reconcile all border-related issues before they turn violent, said Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan's former ambassador to Afghanistan.
"Such meetings are also important to convey Pakistan's work on border security as well as to bring together both countries to get their disputed issues resolved," he said. "Border tension will [negatively] affect both countries and benefit the enemy."
"Such interactions are very positive and helpful in defusing tensions and misconceptions and making things very clear," he said.
[Sulaiman from Kabul contributed to this report.]