What happened at the Chaman border along the Durand Line (DL) last Friday and subsequently is a colossal tragedy. At least for a day or so it looked as if the unthinkable was about to happen. A war between Pakistan and Afghanistan? Indeed, the unthinkable.
One never thought in one’s wildest dreams that Pakistan troops would ever find themselves attacking across the Afghan border and killing Afghan troops and its security personnel, as many as 50 and injuring more than 100 while destroying five of their check-posts.
Afghan government has disputed the casualty figure claimed by Pakistan saying only two Afghan soldiers were killed in the attack.
The reason for eruption of this war –like situation on the DL? On Friday at least 15 people were killed and dozens others wounded after a cross-border battle, near Chaman, between Pakistani and Afghan forces while a Pakistani population census was being conducted near the border.
In the first place there should not have been an attack from our side across the Durand Line no matter what the provocation. No one, least of all the Pakistan military needed to prove anything.
No gesture other than retaliation would have been taken as our weakness or our incapacity to defend our borders at least against the Afghan troops which have proved again and again that they do not have the capability to even liberate the more than 40 per cent of their country under Afghan Taliban occupation.
And who does not know that without the presence of the 9000 US troops the Afghan Army of some 350,000 would be swept away by even this very rag tag Afghan Taliban.
So, the more sagacious action on our part would have been forbearance followed by offer of talks to clear any misunderstanding about where the villages that were being subjected to census were located vis-à-vis the DL. Exactly what is being done now with experts from the two countries sitting across and mulling over the respective DL maps.
Secondly, even if the retaliation had been mounted in a reflex action without giving a thought to its long-time repercussions, there was no need to claim that 50 Afghan soldiers were killed and more than 100 were injured. It appeared as if we had counted the bodies to the last one, including those who were injured. This should have been left to the Afghan side to announce because it was they who were in a position to count the bodies and the injured.
Our immediate inference from the skirmish appears to be that the either the Indians had directly suggested to the Afghan troops to test Pakistan’s tolerance limit. Or perhaps the Afghan troops themselves mistakenly thinking that Pakistan was deliberately encroaching on Afghan soil under cover of excuse of conducting census had done what they perhaps believed was their national duty.
Lately, Afghanistan has been acting too tough for its breeches. The Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani has not only snubbed the parliamentary delegation led by Speaker of the National Assembly, Ayaz Saddiq which called on him earlier this month by declining to accept an invitation to visit Pakistan but the two other delegations, one led by Chief of General Staff (CGS) Lt. General Akber, and the other by the ISI Chief Lt. General Naveed Mukhtar were also given a kind of short shrift.
Our complaint has been that the Afghan government or its intelligence agency NDS or both were providing sanctuary to Threek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists and encouraging them to launch terror attacks on Pakistan from across the DL. Afghan government while refuting the charge has been instead charging Pakistan of providing sanctuary to Haqqani group and the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura and providing them the assistance to launch terror attacks inside Afghanistan from across the DL.
Pakistan has been refuting the charge and has also been pointing to the successes of first the Zarb-i-Azb and now the Raddul Fasaad that have taken care of both the so-called good and bad Taliban.
And as a result of these successes, the Afghan Taliban including the Haqqani group and the members of Quetta Shura have all fled to Afghanistan and therefore it is the responsibility of the Afghan troops to control their terror activities in their country rather than blaming Pakistan for their failure to do the needful.
Pakistan on its part should understand that the Afghan troops do not have the capacity to force the TTP to leave their country. Perhaps what Ehsanullah Ehsan is saying is true, that the Indian RAW is actually providing all the logistic support to the TTP. While it is difficult to believe a terrorist like Ehsanullah, one still needs to look into this angle and not continue to blame the Afghan government.
There is a huge trust deficit between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are a number of reasons for that, not the least the attempts on our part led by the late Hamid Gul doctrine to create strategic depth inside Afghanistan which in effect would mean making a colony of Afghanistan.
The other problem that needs to be tackled headlong is the amalgamation of tribal areas into KP province. This would finally bury the dispute over DL as the tribal population after having been streamlined would itself put an end to the ambiguity.
We being relatively a more stable country and a nuclear power at that we need to take the initial steps to reduce this trust deficit. How we do this is a matter that those who control our Afghan policy should know. In case they do not have anything other than what they have been doing all these 70 years, then they should concede their failure and let those who have the capability and capacity to deal with such issues do the needful.
Tailpiece: Last Thursday (May 4, 2017), just a day before the border skirmish, Gulbadine Hekmatyar, almost 70, was given a hero’s welcome home red-carpet reception in Kabul. He entered the city flanked by President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former president Hamid Karzai.
If one were to go by the photograph showing the four men walking on the red-carpet one would surely be impressed by their combined show of joy. At the ceremony, Hekmatyar urged other insurgents, particularly the Taliban, to renounce violence and join the “caravan of peace”.
The next day, at Kabul’s Ghazi football stadium he praisedhis comrades-in-arms and pledged to willingly work with everyone for attaining fulsome peace.
Hikmatyar has seemingly changed sides and colors. The peace agreement that was reached between the Kabul administration and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) is likely to lessen one of the worries of President Ashraf Ghani, no matter how insignificant, but it would certainly save the HIA chief from becoming completely irrelevant to the developing situation in Afghanistan.
But beyond that this deal is not likely to bring about any qualitative change in the fortunes of Afghanistan. HIA chief is the least of the four worries that face President Ghani currently. Taliban are his first and foremost worry, followed by his partner, the Chief Executive of the Unity government Abdullah Abdullah, the Haqqanis and the HIA.
The highly successful recent hit-and-run offensive of the Taliban has severely tested Kabul’s defensive capacities almost unhinging the government and emboldening in the process Abdullah Abdullah to mount severe criticism against President Ghani accusing him of failing to work collaboratively and deeming him undeserving to serve the government.
This has raised fresh questions about the stability of the coalition formed in 2014 after both Ghani and Abdullah claimed victory in a presidential election and there were fears of armed clashes between their supporters.
So, in the face of these worries, a peace deal with HIA which over the years has been losing its public support as well as its dedicated armed cadre can hardly be a significant consolation for President Ghani.
Isn’t it ironic that the very man who had in the first place destroyed any prospects of a Mujahideen-led multi-faction government in Kabul after the collapse of the Soviet backed communist regime in 1992 by bombarding the Afghan capital with rockets is now talking of peace and appealing to all Afghans to resolve problems through an intra-Afghan dialogue.
His rocket attacks had almost completely destroyed Kabul. In late 1996, the Taliban overran Kabul and forced Rabbani and Hekmatyar to flee north. Since then he has been out of the reckoning in the Afghan power play.
Senility has perhaps taken over his mental faculties because after having entered into a peace process with the government of Ghani he is assuring the Taliban that HIA would support their genuine demands and in the same breath has demanded the release of several important commanders of the Taliban. The US backed Kabul administration is hardly in a position to concede to such demands.