THE situation on the western border is presenting itself as a fresh security challenge for the state, as repeated acts of violence, apparently emanating from Afghanistan, have resulted in an unacceptable loss of life in Pakistan. The fact that the Afghan side has no qualms about targeting civilian areas is particularly disturbing. In the latest flare-up, according to ISPR, the Afghan side opened “indiscriminate fire” on civilian areas in Chaman on Thursday, resulting in at least one death and multiple casualties. Reportedly, the violence was sparked when Pakistani personnel were repairing a border fence and came under fire from the Afghan side, with Pakistani forces returning fire. This incident comes after Sunday’s clash, in which several people were killed on the Pakistani side. The Afghan Taliban apologised after Sunday’s exchange; unfortunately, the apology proved quite short-lived as Thursday’s episode illustrated. This is the third major armed exchange over the past few weeks, as a clash in November resulted in the closure of the Chaman border crossing for nearly a week.
Border clashes between Pakistani and Afghan forces are not new. For example, they occurred during both the Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani administrations — governments that weren’t very friendly towards Pakistan. With the Afghan Taliban taking the reins in Kabul last year, it was perceived that a more ‘pliant’ regime next door would bring some calm to our western border. As the events of the past few weeks have shown, this perception was misplaced. The Afghan Taliban are clearly not ‘our boys’ in Kabul, and can hardly be remote-controlled from Islamabad. Regardless, Pakistan must be firm with the Kabul regime: cross-border violence has to stop, particularly the targeting of civilians on the Pakistani side. If the Taliban have concerns regarding Pakistan, flag meetings should be used to sort out differences, and if matters go beyond that, higher diplomatic channels can be employed to defuse tensions. But if violent cross-border attacks continue, Pakistan must defend itself vigorously. The Afghan Taliban may be faction-ridden, with some components hostile towards Pakistan, while the TTP is a declared enemy of the state. Be that as it may, the Taliban need to put their own house in order, and any elements that seek to harm Pakistan, or provoke confrontation, must be handled accordingly by Kabul’s rulers. Due to their hard-line policies, the Taliban are isolated on the world stage. Creating trouble for Pakistan will only add to their isolation.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2022