Border clashes

Published May 19, 2024

THE Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier has witnessed another series of flare-ups, this time in the Kurram tribal district that borders several Afghan provinces. The hostilities indicate the need for better border management from both sides, so that minor disputes do not descend into armed exchanges. Thankfully a ceasefire was agreed to on Saturday, with the border reopening. Earlier, those living in border villages had moved to safer locales as forces from both states traded fire. Trade activities at the Kharlachi crossing had also been suspended. The trigger for the escalation remains unclear. Though the Taliban remained tight-lipped, Afghan media claimed a number of “civilians” had lost their lives in the clashes, which had been continuing for several days but intensified on Friday.

Pakistan’s cross-border issues with Afghanistan are of two kinds. The first involves direct hostilities between security forces of both nations. The second element is that of cross-border terrorism perpetrated in Pakistan by militant groups that have apparently found sanctuary in Afghanistan. Both these outstanding issues need to be resolved in order to ensure mutual security. While some in official circles had felt that security would improve after the Western-backed government in Kabul fell and the Taliban took over, this has not been the case. Ever since the August 2021 fall of Kabul, cross-border security has remained tenuous. The number of incidents over the past several months is numerous. For example, the Torkham crossing has remained closed for days on end due to various disputes. Sometimes these closures have taken a violent turn, with security forces trading fire. Pakistan has also struck reported terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan; the last major such incident took place in March after a number of security personnel were martyred in a North Waziristan ambush. Meanwhile, a terrorist incursion in Chitral was thwarted by security forces in September last year.

While Pakistan has communicated its “deepest concerns” to Kabul regarding the latest hostilities, there is a need to work with the de facto Afghan government to ensure the western border remains peaceful. Local-level disputes at the frontier need to be resolved by area commanders and officials before they deteriorate into exchanges of fire. Moreover, the Afghan side must realise that the Durand Line is the border, and change in its status is non-negotiable from the Pakistani point of view. The issue of cross-border terrorism is more complicated. While the Taliban authorities may be in denial about the presence of militants on Afghan soil, securing the border — and ensuring no anti-Pakistan terrorists are able to threaten this country’s security from the Afghan side — is the Taliban’s responsibility. While it may appear that Islamabad’s antiterrorism concerns are not being seriously entertained by Kabul, the state must continue to use diplomatic channels to communicate its views.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2024

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