Pakistan and Afghanistan are conjoined twins having centuries-old cultural, religious, social, and economic ties. The prosperity of both the nations and, to a great extent, of the entire region, is wedded to their peaceful coexistence. Peace and stability in one country directly impact the other.
Similarly, mistrust and violence pave the way for inimical foreign forces to further the conflict and serve their interests in the region. Unfortunately, Pak-Afghan bilateral ties have strained recently due to border management issues and the prevailing security situation in areas adjacent to Pak-Afghan international border.
Both state and non-state actors from Afghanistan are responsible for triggering various chains of events where innocent people lose their lives due to incidents of unprovoked violence from Afghan soil against Pakistan.
Since the US departure from Afghanistan in August 2021, there has been a threat perception about violence spillover into Pakistan from Afghanistan as civil unrest was to break out in the face of power vacuum created by the US withdrawal. Soon afterward, the Taliban took over Kabul under a negotiated agreement with the US in which the Taliban government was declared “interim Afghan Government (IAG) that promised to the global community that Afghan soil will not be used against any of its neighbors. This pledge by the IEA government was fulfilled but Pakistan remained the only exception as cross-border provocative attacks continued by both TTP and IAG.
A cursory look at the chronology of events that transpired on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border exposes how tense the situation at the border is. A low mutual trust level between the two forces is also evident here:
On 11th Nov 2022, two miscreants/attackers opened fire on Pakistani troops at the friendship gate (FSG) at the Chaman border, resulting in the martyrdom of one soldier while injuring 2 others.
On 20th Nov 2022, in cross-border firing in the Kharlachi area of Kurram by Afghan Forces, mortar raids by IAG troops injured eight persons including two children and three FC personnel.
The Chaman border crossing was closed by Pakistani authorities after both attacks but was reopened shortly afterward, on 22nd Nov 2022, due to the humanitarian needs of Afghan people. There were patients among them who had come to Pakistan for treatment. Pakistani authorities reopened the Chaman border, even though IAG had not complied with Islamabad’s demand to apprehend the perpetrators.
On 11th Dec 2022, the deadliest attack on the civilian population from IEA forces left 6 people killed while around sixty injured on the Pakistani side. This provocation evoked a strong response from Pakistan.
On 15th Dec 2022, in the second “indiscriminate” incident within a week of cross-border artillery shelling, killed one person and wounded 15 others on the Pakistani side. This was perhaps the most brazen provocation by IEA forces. Interestingly, this attack was timed with the visit of US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General Michael Kurilla. The US general led his delegation in talks with COAS, General Asim Munir, where the Afghanistan situation was also under discussion. Later, visiting delegation was taken to Torkham where they were briefed by Pakistani authorities on counterterrorism and border management mechanisms in place along the border. This adds credence to the idea that IEA looking to internationalize a historic disagreement between Islamabad and Kabul on the demarcation of the Pak-Afghan international border that was done after an agreement by the British Indian government with the Kabul regime in the 19th century.
On Jan 2, 2023, it was reported that The US budget for 2023 includes $15 million for improving security along the Pakistan-Afghan border and an unspecified amount of funds to promote gender equality in Pakistan
On Feb 12, 2023, Pakistani security forces eliminated 12 TTP personnel who crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan.
On Feb 20th, 2023, Pakistani border guards and Afghan Taliban forces traded cross-border fire. No reports of any casualty were made though it led to the closure of the Torkham border.
On Feb 22nd, 2023, a high-level Pakistani delegation including DG ISI and Defense Minister visited Kabul and held a meeting with acting Afghan deputy Prime Minister, Mullah Abdul Ghani Bradar. Both sides discussed issues related to border management and security. It was stated in a media release that bilateral economic cooperation between the two states must be held hostage to the security situation at the border.
On 8th March 2023, in clashes with Pakistani security forces, four ISIS terrorists were killed at Pak-Afghan international border in different incidents.
On 9th March 2023, Pakistani and Afghan authorities held a flagship meeting at Custom House Torkham. Both parties discussed ways to expedite customs clearance and maintain peace at the border crossing.
Recently, Pakistan abstained from voting on a UNGA resolution that expressed deep concern over the volatility in Afghanistan since the 2021 takeover.
Pakistan launched a strong protest against the Kabul regime but all its requests have been ignored. A chilling fact came to the fore from all these developments that TTP is not the only security concern for Pakistan, IAG forces on the border are also a bone of contention. Such incidents of armed attacks from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory threaten heightened insecurity if ineffectively managed. There is no doubt about the need for potent security measures by the IAG government along the Pak-Afghan international border because repeated occurrences of such incidents will only add a sour taste to relations between the two brotherly countries.
An excuse for the lack of professional training in the Afghan Taliban’s local commanders at the border was presented through Afghan media publications. The fact remains, the Taliban is not the first time in power in Kabul. During their last government in the 1990s, there was no such incident of unprovoked armed attack on Pakistani forces or population located across the border.
Taliban bear primary responsibility for Afghanistan’s security, they must be professionalized in their primary tasks. It will help not only in border management but also in domestic law and order situations across Afghanistan. Pakistan has been extending its full and unilateral support to the IAG to help it stand on its feet. This is because IAG must not lose due to security negligence/lapses. If requested, Pakistan can take into confidence the international comity to train IAG forces in border management and other security disciplines.
Regional peace and stability is a shared responsibility of all the countries in South East Asia. Afghanistan has been a strategic black hole in the region halting its progress and interconnectivity. Pakistan will be the biggest beneficiary of peace in Afghanistan. Afghan people and the IAG government must understand and respect Pakistan’s security concerns related to TTP and border management issues. Failure in this regard would invite unnecessary escalation among two brotherly countries which is not in anyone’s favor and hence must be avoided at all costs!
*Author is Ph.D. Scholar (SPIR-QAU) and has worked on various public policy issues as Policy Consultant in National Security Division (NSD), Prime Minister Office (PMO). Currently, she is working at Islamabad Policy Research Institution (IPRI) as Policy Consultant. Her work has been published in local and International publications. She can be reached at [email protected]. Twitter: @NoureenAkhtar16