Wednesday, 10 September 2003

REASONS AND IMPLICATIONS OF PAKISTAN-AFGHAN BORDER CLASHES

Published in Analytical Articles

By Asma Shakir Khwaja (9/10/2003 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: During the past months, instances of the use of force and border clashes on the Pakistani-Afghan border have caused the deaths of numerous soldiers on both sides, and created serious misunderstandings among the two states. The border clashes took place shortly after the deployment of Pakistani troops in the tribal are of the Mohmand agency, to block the infiltration of suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda activists from Afghanistan. Afghan tribesmen accused Pakistani troops of setting up checkpoints deep inside Afghan territory.
BACKGROUND: During the past months, instances of the use of force and border clashes on the Pakistani-Afghan border have caused the deaths of numerous soldiers on both sides, and created serious misunderstandings among the two states. The border clashes took place shortly after the deployment of Pakistani troops in the tribal are of the Mohmand agency, to block the infiltration of suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda activists from Afghanistan. Afghan tribesmen accused Pakistani troops of setting up checkpoints deep inside Afghan territory. According to the Political Agent in the Mohmand Agency, Pakistan established eight major posts including at Yaqubi Kandao and Anargai, on the border with Afghanistan. He said troops were also deployed at 28 other points to provide protection to the eight major posts. A Pakistani military spokesman blamed Afghan tribesmen and local warlords for attacks on his troops, adding that a pro-government military official of the Nangarhar province was promoting the attacks. Pakistani officials denied any border incursion and insisted that its troops are operating on its own soil, and took 14 foreign diplomats to visit the border areas. Islamabad accused the Indian consulates in Qandahar and Jalalabad of promoting misunderstandings between Afghanistan and Pakistan, terming them “bases of the RAW [Indian intelligence] and its accessories” indulging in subversion in Pakistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai repeated his stance that Pakistan should change its attitude towards his country and put an end to cross-border attacks by extremists. Relations worsened further after the ransacking of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul. Recently, unknown attackers hurled a hand grenade at the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, causing some damage, a first attack on an Indian mission which is giving assistance to Afghanistan in many sectors. The hostility between India and Pakistan can hence also be witnessed in war-torn Afghanistan. The issue of the Durand Line was highlighted after these border skirmishes. Afghan officials are presently asking the United States to renegotiate the Durand Line, which was drawn in 1893 by Sir Mortimer Durand. The U.S. offered to help the two countries to re-position small border posts, refusing to take up the issue of the border. Pakistan has stated that the Durand Line is a closed chapter and that the border is not negotiable. A tripartite fact-finding commission comprising military officials of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States was set up in mid-July, and its members agreed to use Global Positioning System (GPS) to sort out border disputes. The Afghan Government reportedly objected to four points on the border where Pakistani troops had allegedly occupied territory inside Afghanistan. Two of the major points were Yaqubi Kandao and Sirala Sar at Ziarat, both high peaks on the Durand Line. Shedding light on the cause of the misunderstandings, a Pakistani commission member said Afghanistan was using Russian maps, while Pakistan was using British maps, and the Americans had their own maps.

IMPLICATIONS: The re-emergence of the Durand Line issue and the eruption of border clashes are a threat to regional stability. Both parties are trying to solve the issue through diplomatic means, but mistrust remains high. The Karzai government is facing problems on both the external and internal front, exacerbating the problem. Karzai recently went on the offensive against powerful warlords, like the governor of Qandahar, Gul Agha Shirzai, and the governor of Herat, Ismail Khan, whom Karzai dismissed as military commander of western Afghanistan, to assert the power of the central government. On the other hand, the movement for a referendum on the type of government in the country has been launched. Supporters of former king Mohammad Zahir Shah announced the formation of a movement to press for the restoration of the monarchy, labeling the Karzai government as ‘a tool of warlords’. The adoption of a new constitution has been postponed by two months, allowing more time to inform the public about what is at stake, in a move that could delay elections due next year. While Karzai is facing political problems at home, Pakistan is reassuring the world that it has no designs of interfering in Afghanistan and asserting its support for the Afghan government. Pakistan repeatedly issues statements to the effect that a strong, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan, and supporting Karzai’s government. For his part, Karzai has laid out his parameters for the relationship between the two countries: “One, we want friendship. Two, we want trade and business. Three, we want a civilized relationship with Pakistan which avoids acts of aggression against Afghanistan and support for extremism.” Both nations are cooperating on many fronts. Pakistan will train personnel of Afghanistan\'s border security agencies. A group of Afghan diplomats will be participating in a training course specially organized for them at the Foreign Service Academy, Islamabad, which will start in September 2003. They are finding ways of cooperation on reconstruction and on economic and political fronts. Afghanistan’s Border Areas and Tribal Affairs head Malik Faridoon Khan Mohmand recently announced a new force to bring terrorism under control along the two countries’ borders. A new, 4,000-strong Afghan militia is to operate to curb terrorism in the border areas with Pakistan’. At the root of the Afghan-Pakistan tangle lies the resolution of the Durand line issue. Afghanistan is the strategic rear for Pakistan, and it cannot afford strain relations on its western borders. The interests of Pakistan and Afghanistan would be best served in a settlement of the border dispute, and any support from the U.S. helping to encourage such a dialogue would help improve the regional security environment. This can in turn be sustained only through the improvement of economic relations. There is an urgent need for a high-level dialogue, driven mainly by establishing new parameters for tackling security challenges. In the joint statement issued after the visit by Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri in August, interestingly the Afghan foreign minister did not talk about the re-demarcation of the Pak-Afghan border.

CONCLUSION: Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s economies are complementary. Pakistan regards Afghanistan as its strategic rear and land bridge to Central Asia and beyond. Instability or clashes on the Pak-Afghan border cannot help in establishing close links with the Central Asian States. A government official of Pakistan said, “we must recognize that Pakistan’s own internal stability, Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s hopes of trade and economic collaboration with Central Asia are all at stake, if we fail to mend fences among the nations”.

AUTHOR’S BIO: Asma Shakir Khawaja is an Islamabad based Analyst on Central Asian affairs and strategic issues. She is contributing research articles on these issues to national research journals. Currently she is working for Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Islamabad, Pakistan.

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