WITH the arrival of summer, cross-border attacks in Fata launched from eastern Afghanistan have started once again. There have been three this month, including one on Sunday in which six Pakistani troops were killed in combat and another seven beheaded. Four remain missing. If last year’s experience is anything to go by, there will be more assaults involving scores of militants attacking check posts along Fata’s northern border with Afghanistan, from Kunar province in particular. These get far less attention in the international press than attacks in Afghanistan allegedly launched by the Haqqani network from Pakistan. But simply because no western troops are at risk in Fata does not mean the attacks here should be taken any less seriously as cross-border threats that are destabilising the region and disrupting relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US.
Islamabad has lodged a diplomatic protest, but that is not enough. Protests were also lodged, including by the army chief, after a similar spate of attacks last year. No action seems to have been taken in response. As much as Pakistan needs to get to work to eliminate safe havens in North Waziristan, Afghan and Isaf security forces need to figure out a way to eliminate them on their side. Isaf has scaled back its troop presence in eastern Afghanistan, and if it is not prepared to reallocate some of its soldiers to the area, Afghan security forces can step in. All three sides, perhaps through the framework of the Tripartite Commission, need to jointly chalk out a plan to dismantle safe havens, and the issue should be raised with the American commander in Afghanistan during his visit to Pakistan that starts today.
But this is not just an international problem. Carried out by militants chased out of Swat during the 2009 operation there, these attacks represent what can go wrong even after a reasonably effective military campaign. For that operation to continue to be seen as a success, action will have to be taken here as well. Security forces were already positioned in the affected border areas after last year’s attacks, but their continuation this year suggests more resources and a better strategy for guarding the area are needed. There is also the question of troop morale. The loss of soldiers on Sunday comes after the beheading of seven troops in South Waziristan last week. Neither incident was followed by an official statement from the military leadership. At a time when Pakistani soldiers have lost so many colleagues, they deserve a public message celebrating their contribution and expressing the military’s resolve to combat the Taliban’s brutality.