Categorized | South Asian Politics

Strong military presence at Pak-Afghan border to continue

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

   The 13th summit conference of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) was held in Islamabad on March 1. This organization aims at promoting greater economic, societal and trade cooperation among its member state that include Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.  The heads of state or government participated in the conference with the exception of Afghanistan that was represented by its ambassador in Islamabad. Since it was the conference of heads of state or government (President, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister) the representation of a country by its local ambassador is viewed as a low level representation.

    The President or Chief Executive of Afghanistan did not come to Islamabad to express diplomatic displeasure over Afghanistan’s strained relations with Pakistan, especially Pakistan’s decision to close  all crossing-points on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This has suspended bilateral trade and movement of people through the official border crossing points.

   Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan have remained troubled for the last several years. Mutual distrust is very high at the official level.  The interesting aspect of this troubled relations between Pakistan and Afghansitan is that if you move away from Afghanistan’s official circles and their affiliated groups, there is hardly any resentment against Pakistan.  At the common people level or among the business circles of Afghanistan, there is a keenness to maintain close and cordial relations with Pakistan.

   The current breakdown in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan can be traced to the series of terrorist attacks in different parts of Pakistan, especially in Lahore and Sehwan Sharif, in mid-February.  These attacks were traced back to Pakistani Taliban groups based in Afghanistan. The Afghan government rejected Pakistani claims that Pakistani Taliban and the Jamaatul Ahrar were based in Kunar and Nangarhar regions of Afghanistan.

       Pakistan strengthened its security arrangements on the border and targeted the Pakistani Taliban and Jamaatul Ahrar camps  on the Afghan side of the border by heavy guns. Pakistani troops stayed on the Pakistani side. Afghanistan protested about the firing into Afghan territory without entertaining Pakistani complaint of the Afghan territory being used against Pakistan by Pakistani Taliban and its allied groups. Pakistan closed all border crossings with Afghanistan in protest on February 17. As Pakistan gave a list of 76 wanted Taliban based in Afghanistan to the Afghan government, the latter sent a list of 85 persons wanted by Afghanistan.

   The February 2017 incidents happened against the background of the history of  problems in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The Afghan Foreign Office, Security and Intelligence are dominated by people who were in the past associated with what was then described as the Northern Alliance, dominated by Tajik and Uzbek who contested the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

      As Pakistan supported the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance leadership turned against Pakistan.  Most of the Northern Alliance leaders had spent time in India and had developed closer interaction with Indian establishment.  As the Indian presence in Afghanistan was virtually reduced to zero during the Taliban years, they supported the Northern Alliance fight against the Taliban.  Both shared anti-Pakistan sentiments.

     Now, for the last several years, the Afghan government has given enough space to India in Afghanistan to pursue its anti-Pakistan agenda from Afghanistan. Indian intelligence cultivates and funds Pakistani Taliban and Baloch dissident groups.

    Whenever there is some major terrorist attack by Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan, the Afghan government accuses Pakistani intelligence agencies for master-minding such attacks.  It also wants Pakistan to expel all Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani group from Pakistan.  For this demand, Afghanistan enjoys the support of India and the United States.

   On the other hand, Pakistani Taliban and their allied groups are based in Afghanistan and Pakistan wants that Afghanistan should not let them use Afghan territory as their safe-haven against Pakistan.    Similarly, Pakistan wants Afghanistan to restrain Indian role against Pakistan from Afghanistan.  The Afghan government rejects these Pakistani complaints and insists that Pakistan’s ISI should not cultivate Afghan Taliban.

    The reality of the situation is that there is a movement of militant elements both ways on the Pakistan-Afghan border. The Afghan government is neither interested in strengthening border control nor it want to control the activities of Pakistani Taliban from Afghan territory.  However, it wants Pakistan to take action against Afghan Taliban inside of Pakistan.

  These differences in their approaches to terrorism became more visible in the course of the recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan.  After getting convinced that Afghanistan would not take any punitive action against Pakistani Taliban and Jamaatul Ahrar based in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army decided to take a tough line towards Afghanistan. It bombed the terrorist hide outs of Pakistani Taliban on the Afghan side of the border, increased monitoring of the border and suspended the movement of people and goods across the Pakistan-Afghan border.

    Pakistan’s military and civilian authorities view the present Afghan leadership as an ungrateful lot that refuses to recognize Pakistani sacrifices for Afghanistan going back to the 1980s when Soviet military intervened in Afghanistan. Pakistan still plays host to about two million Afghan registered and unregistered refugees.

   Pakistan is expected to keep a strong military presence on the Pak-Afghan border, target Pakistani Taliban hideouts in Afghanistan without entering Afghanistan, and keep under check trade and movement of people between the two countries.  Even if the Pak-Afghan border is opened, there will be strict enforcement of entry rules and an active monitoring of the border by the Army and paramilitary forces.


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