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Border flare-up

Updated May 10, 2017 03:33am


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THE Pak-Afghan relationship, dogged by profound mistrust, has been a zero-sum game over the past 16 years. Efforts to normalise the increasingly rancorous ties have floundered on the rocks of scepticism and recriminations over cross-border terrorism.

A large number of people — mostly civilians — were killed and wounded in the latest exchange of heavy shelling across the Durand Line in the Chaman town of Balochistan. Though Pakistan had informed them in advance of census-taking activity in the area, Afghan forces resorted to unprovoked fire.

There was no justification for the ugly incident as the enumerators and the paramilitary personnel escorting them posed no security threat to the trigger-happy Afghan border police — a force that noticeably lacks professional skills and is rarely held accountable for deadly errors.

Kabul should know that trust is a two-way street.

As a consequence of the latest escalation, the border has once again been shut, blocking all movement of people and supplies to the landlocked country, including for US-led international troops. Several homes were destroyed in the gunbattle, which prompted each side to accuse the other of providing safe havens to militants.

Such is the tenuous nature of the Pak-Afghan state of play — the skirmish came on the heels of high-level visits by Pakistani parliamentarians, military commanders and intelligence agents to Kabul. Both sides put an optimistic face on the meetings, hailing their talks as productive. But these statements soon turned out to be routine rhetorical flourishes, devoid of substance and sincerity.

Kabul’s argument that the census team and security personnel had strayed into its territory and were counting Afghan citizens cuts no ice with Islamabad. Some Afghan officials, ignoring the fact that the problems originating in their country somehow spill over into Pakistan, went as far as to claim that terrorists were trying to enter Afghanistan in the garb of enumerators.

Pakistan may not be doing enough to deny the Afghan Taliban a safe haven on its soil, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani must also appreciate the reality that trust is a two-way street. His intransigence has upset peace proponents. Both sides need to cooperate on battling militancy to prevent a recurrence of such tensions. In the hope of paving the ground for a thaw, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq ex­tended Ghani an invitation to visit Islamabad. The president’s rejection is a grim reminder of the deep-seated animosity between the neighbours.

In the main, his rejectionist response stems from hard-to-meet conditions. One of his terms concerns the immediate handover of the perpetrators of attacks on the governor’s office in Kandahar, the army base in Balkh, the American University in Kabul and the Sardar Daud Hospital.

He has emphatically ruled out any substantive political engagement with Pakistan unless the elements involved in the devastating assaults are turned over to his administration. To him, the arrest and surrender of the attackers is child’s play. In reality, however, it is no cakewalk.

Ironically, Pakistan-related statements from even lowly Afghan officials are in a similar vein. In no mood for rapprochement, Afghan officialdom refuses to recognise the British-era border — a wild frontier whose management is a big headache — as an international border. They are virtually hiding behind the fig leaf of the Durand Line being a temporary boundary.

If the current climate of hostility persists, Pakistan would definitely think about fortifying the border once again to eliminate a source of constant consternation. This can heighten bilateral bitterness besides spelling hum­­anitarian problems for many Afghans with relatives and businesses on this side.

After a series of deadly attacks blamed on Afghanistan-based fighters in February, Pakistan slammed shut all border crossings with the landlocked country for more than a month. Plans to fence the border will divide the communities straddling it and have a negative effect on trade and people-to-people contacts.

A dramatic turn of events in the past three weeks is demonstrative of the government’s loosening grip and the mounting problems for key world players to prop it up. The developments also underscored the need for a dispassionate review of the seemingly intractable war.

Much to Ghani’s frustration, the domestic security environment remains wobbly. His defence minister and chief of army staff, who were dismissed for the fatal security lapse in Mazar-i-Sharif, have now been rewarded with ambassadorial slots. In the ongoing war of attrition, his leadership has turned out to be a busted flush.

Given the Afghan Taliban’s resurgence and a spike in the militant Islamic State group’s violence, 2017 will be another tough year for him. The Afghan army, riven by corruption and desertions, is unlikely to withstand the militant onslaught. Just like the security establishment, the Ghani government has also failed to drain the swamp.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Peshawar.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (44) Closed

DG May 10, 2017 08:08am

" Kabul should know that trust is a two-way street..."

Yes Sir,Very true that Kabul should know it!

Pir muhammad May 10, 2017 10:03am

now iran is also angry.

F35 May 10, 2017 01:04pm

Kabul,Tehran and New Delhi should all know that trust is a two way street.....its Pakistans misfortune to be surrounded by such neighbours.......

Robert May 10, 2017 01:48pm

Quite fitting if only the word Afghanistan changes to Pakistan. Trust is a two way street.

FAYYAZ Ahmad Khan May 10, 2017 02:30pm

Externalising error is a trait that Afghans have probably learnt from us. As we blame everything bad on our eastern neighbour, Afghans are doing the same and not surprisingly pointing to the the same direction- eastwards. The approach has neither worked for Pakistan nor it will for Afghans. This war-ravaged impoverished country needs follow better models to solve its problems.

sadia Tariq May 10, 2017 03:13pm

@FAYYAZ Ahmad Khan There is a dearth of models for Afghans to follow, because China is equally controversial in the eyes of Indians.

sania sardar May 10, 2017 03:16pm

@F35 It's a question of perspective. Anti-Pakistan tirade is a fashion in Kabul.

Nizamuddin May 10, 2017 03:16pm

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan should show restrain and patience as skirmish has no result. Not only Chaman but there will a lot of villages separated by the Durand Line so i suggest a separate body should be formed by the both governments to settle such disputes. militants and some regional actor would benefit from the Afghan Pakistan tension. trad and social engagements would suffer from tension.

Raaz May 10, 2017 03:31pm

@F35 Except for China, other neighbour countries don't have good relations with Pakistan

Hazarawal May 10, 2017 03:39pm

USA is holding the Kabul government in place with all its might and wealth. As soon as US withdraws its support, Taliban will run over Kabul. That is the reason that Pakistan is reluctant to go all out and support the Afghan government.

Joshj May 10, 2017 03:40pm

@F35 I agree!!

Burhan May 10, 2017 03:59pm

Trust is a two way street,but majority of Afghans to day conceiving that by using the shoulder of Pakistan US push back USSR and resulted in irreparable shock to Afghanies.But they are not in a position to understand the ground reality and that was the only solution in that period.To day our eastern enemy is sitting in Afghanistan and blessing Afghanies with Petrodollars.Yes,Ghanny knows all the nacked facts and ignoring/sidelining..........Then what type of trust?

Qaiser khan May 10, 2017 04:04pm

very true sir. To the point. A very well written article. Afghanistan and Pakistan should act sensibly. wish peace restore in both the countries.

Inayat REhman May 10, 2017 04:28pm

@Qaiser khan Good neighourliness is the need of the hour/

Mukhtiar alam May 10, 2017 04:29pm

You showed a very clear picture in your today column. The government of Afghanistan need to understand to use their energy for the peace in their country. In the current senario of the world and especially of the region both the countries need to be humble with each other for the sake of their citizens.

shafiullah May 10, 2017 04:39pm

@Mukhtiar alam We need visionary leadership, which is in short supply.

numaan May 10, 2017 04:44pm

cooperation must be bilateral the two country's must work together to eliminate the roots of terrorism

Ihsanullah May 10, 2017 04:56pm

@numaan bilateralism seems to have failed long ago between pakistan and afghanistan. ghani has already sought third-party intervention

sheer ahmad usmani May 10, 2017 05:17pm

In my opinion, the originate of such barbaric devises should be fined in both Afg-Pak and the officials of the both sides should not ignore the fact and be honest. It is clear to all that both countries need to cooperate one another and should work to annihilate the misunderstanding and terrorism in the region and pave the way for good ties.

Parwiz May 10, 2017 05:24pm

Both countries should atleast take one step back for settling dominating disputes as such tensions have the direct and disastrous consequences on the regional stability ,peace and harmony.

shaheen May 10, 2017 05:28pm

Very well written piece! Both countries must sort out the differences to avoid another humanitarian disaster on the border.

mubashir Ali May 10, 2017 05:58pm

@Parwiz India's so-called diplomatic and humanitarian presence in Afghanistan lies at the root of the problem.

rustam khan May 10, 2017 06:09pm

@sania sardar Reciprocity can still help the neighbourd break the ice.

Dr Ashraf khan May 10, 2017 06:45pm

@rustam khan A very hostile neighbourhood we are living in. Ghani can go abroad if his regime collapses. Ditto for Sharifs. What will the teeming masses do?

ADEEL SAEED May 10, 2017 06:45pm

As usaual very good analysis by Mudassir Ali Shah on Pak-Afghan relations. His writing style and use of words are very attractive. Shah sb you should also write on national and social issues.

BAXAR May 10, 2017 08:04pm

@Raaz "Except for China, other neighbour countries don't have good relations with Pakistan" Other neighbors don't like Pakistan BECAUSE of it's good relations with China.

Rifatullah ORakzai May 10, 2017 11:45pm

As usual a good article by Mudassar sb. A good and balance analysis of the complex issue. Waiting for more such pieces in the coming days.

zahir shah May 11, 2017 01:48am

@Rifatullah ORakzai yes, Mudassir Sb should write more frequently to keep us posted on Afghanistan.

Ash20 May 11, 2017 02:04am

Trust is a two-way street, writer correctly mentioned. Afganistan is suffering from Taliban attacks for many years and Pakistan has not shown any sign of eliminating Afgan Taliban from Pakistan soil and even Osama, Etc. We're found in oakistan living comfortably. Same with Afgan Taliban chief killed last year by US drone in Pakistan. Why Afgan should believe on anything Pakistan says when ground situation is Afgan Taliban are comfortably living in Pakistan.

salman khan May 11, 2017 04:39pm

@F35 Fortune favours the brave, they say.

kausar Ali shah May 11, 2017 04:48pm

@salman khanThis too shall pass as all things do. No need to panic.

daud.hussaini May 11, 2017 05:01pm

Talks the better option to reduce tension between the two countries.

Abasib Zaheer May 11, 2017 05:03pm

Peaceful relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan can have positive effects on their economic and security situations and in order to do that, both governments must give everything to improve this relation. For both these countries, their peaceful relation is more important than relations with any other country in the world.

Basharat May 11, 2017 05:04pm

Pakistan and Afghanistan should avoid clashes and the two countries should solve all outstanding issues through talks. confrontation is only to benefit terrorist elements.

Sayed muhammad edrees May 11, 2017 05:06pm

i am not a fan of bad relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. the more these two countries are fighting each other, the more weaker they get and other countries will easily achieve their purposes in these countries. As neighbors, it is the responsibility of the authorities to maintain a healthy and peaceful relations between each other so at least the public could live their lives peacefully

Nasratullah Ahmadzai May 11, 2017 05:13pm

Afghanistan and Pakistan can take Any problems on political communication, public and business transactions adversely affected both countries. So both Countries should aim to have a good relationship forever and be one hand against the other countries.

Sajad Khan May 11, 2017 05:17pm

All neighbors of Pakistan are claim terrorism is emanating from Pakistan. it is necessary that Pakistan take action against all militant outfits and play its role in regional economic development. a peaceful neighborhood is something where every member can live and achieve its goals.

Abdulbaseer 'Mamnoon' May 11, 2017 05:23pm

Honesty is best policy! Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are two Muslim and neighbor countries. They have some joint interests,culture and tradition, since along time they lived in peace and security situation, but unfortunately more than a decade some tensions have rose between to countries which affected the every field of two countries. Afghanistan mostly give the friendship hand to Pakistan but Pakistan never fully accomplish its commitments in Afghan peace process. Let us begin the new page of sincere and honesty relationship to make tow countries and eventually whole region safe and secure.

aBdullah khan May 11, 2017 05:28pm

the truth is that there is the lack of belief and confidence between both countries, Afghanistan always try to make Pakistan it's own and close friend because they are neighboring countries and both need the true friendship and cooperation, but Pakistan had never thought about this Ideology.
If the officials of both countries try for peaceful Agendas, the both neighboring countries will have peaceful environments and strong ties.

arifullah jan May 11, 2017 08:09pm

@aBdullah khan the estranged neighbours are unlikely to learn living like neighbours.

musa khan May 11, 2017 08:22pm

@Raaz Self-interest seems to be the operative policy of each state.

Janan yusufzai May 11, 2017 10:40pm

@Abdulbaseer Absolutely true. Honesty is the best policy. However, honest leaders and policymakers are hard to find.

Mohammad Ali May 12, 2017 02:09am

The clash also left hundreds of passengers stranded on both sides and caused huge losses to traders besides displacing hundreds of families to safety...

dr. RIAZ Ahmed May 13, 2017 12:02pm

its been decades, both the sides of durand line are burning. peace in afghanistan is important for peace in Pak and vice versa. The lack of trust leads to failure of any relationship. point to ponder.