It is unbecoming of the diplomatic staff of a country to get physically involved in a property dispute on foreign land. Yet the Afghan consul general in Peshawar got his staff to hoist their national flag on disputed territory. Taking the escalation to a further level, Afghanistan has closed its consulate in Peshawar for an indefinite period to “protest the removal of its national flag from a disputed property known as Afghan Market”. Afghan Consul General Hashim Niazi later told reporters at a press conference on Friday, “We condemn removal of our national flag from the market by police and close down the consulate in Peshawar for an indefinite period”. A day earlier, the diplomatic staff themselves hoisted the Afghan flag atop the market as a mark of Afghan property. In the middle ages, knights would hoist a flag on a territory won in a battlefield. The Afghan diplomats must know that diplomacy is not about qualifying for knighthood through showing muscle power.
The dispute over the Afghan Market is decades old. Traditionally, the Afghan consulate would manage the market affairs – lease, rent, etc. The market with 300 shops has also an administrative office, managed and manned by Afghan nationals. The Afghan government claims the property belongs to the Afghan National Bank as Afghanistan bought it before Partition. In 1971, litigation over the ownership of the market ensued, which culminated in 2017 when the Supreme Court gave its verdict in favour of a Pakistani petitioner. The implementation of the top court’s verdict has led to a diplomatic row, creating another wedge between the two countries, which often do not see eye to eye on many matters. The Foreign Office says the court’s verdict will prevail at the end of the day. The Afghan diplomat wants to solve the dispute through diplomatic means and wants Islamabad to suspend the court’s verdict. He should be reminded that the closure of the consulate would shut an effective channel for the resolution of the dispute. Moreover, it will hurt Afghan interests as most of the traders and visitors from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are facilitated with visa and other routine works.
The row has ignited a wave of hate towards Pakistan back in Afghanistan as in Kabul people have protested in front of the Pakistani embassy, and all under the nose of the Afghan government. Both Kabul and Islamabad are advised to take a sane approach and resolve the petty issue as soon as possible. *