LAST year it was Durand Line on which Pakistan Afghanistan military had a stand-off for many days and now another skirmish has taken place on Chaman border in Pakistani area a few days back and situation still remains tense with closing of border. An unprovoked shelling and firing was carried out in Pakistani area by Afghan forces on the teams conducting official census. Clashes between the forces lasted hours causing death of 15 people and leaving many injured. This is not the first kind of border violation carried by Afghanistan. It appears the bordering country constantly wants to engage with Pakistan without any evidence of violations and trying to adopt Indian strategy of baseless accusations on Pakistan.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a roughly 2,500km-long border, which runs through mountainous terrain. Chaman is one of the two main border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan in Balochistan area. Pakistan is currently conducting the second phase of its first door-to-door population census in 19 years, with more than 100,000 enumerators and 200,000 troops taking part in the exercise. After the proofs of militant activities and terrorists fleeing to safe havens in areas adjacent to border Pakistan stressed on effective border management on both sides. Fencing and establishing border check posts was one such measure adopted by Pakistan to curtail the movement of Taliban fighters into Pakistan. Afghanistan showed resistance on taking such measures in past too and definitely these resistances add on to the border dispute between two neighbours.
In February 2017, Pakistan sealed all border crossings with Afghanistan for over a month after a wave of attacks across Pakistan killed more than 100 people. Those attacks were followed by frequent skirmishes between Pakistani Taliban fighters and Pakistan’s military along the border in the Mohmand, Khyber and other districts. On 20 March 2017, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the reopening of the border crossings. Since the census was launched in March, government census teams have also come under attack from Taliban fighters. On April 5, a census team was hit by an explosion in Lahore, killing at least six people. Likewise, two government census workers were also killed when a blast hit a passing passenger van in the north-western Kurram district on April 25. Tehreek-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Afghan officials supporting their attack on census team mentioned that they had warned Pakistan against conducting the census in the villages in the border area, which remains disputed between the two countries. According to Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, Durand line is not clear and according to the government of Afghanistan the villages where the clashes happened are located on the Afghan side of the border. Pakistan claims that these villages are on their side of the Durand line. Supporting their argument Afghanistan officials claimed that they warned Pakistan not to conduct census in disputed area. They blamed Pakistan and said violation is carried out by Pakistan as the Pakistan armed forces entered the villages of Killi Luqman and Killi Jahangir which are located on the Afghan side of the Durand line and areas are elated to the Spin Boldak of Kandahar province. Their defence is the duty of the Afghan national defence forces.
Media reports and eye witnesses’ statements reveal that Afghan forces intentionally tried to enter through Pakistani border and started firing and shelling on local populace. Pakistan armed forces in their defence fought too and after hours of fight, Afghan forces surrendered and announced cease fire. From both sides Director General of Military Operations contacted on hotline and Pakistan strongly condemned this coward act by Afghanistan. During a hotline conversation the Afghan official admitted his side’s mistake and the firing was stopped at the border. Afghan Director General, Military Operations, acknowledged that border is in between villages and not at the ditch, as being perceived by them. The Foreign Office also summoned the Afghan charge de’ affairs to lodge a protest against the cross-border attack. The charge de’ affairs was told that the unprovoked firing by Afghan forces had led to the loss of lives, disrupted the census in areas on the Pakistan side of the border and caused damage to properties. The FO urged the Afghan government to take action against those responsible for the violation. After the Chaman border attack, Afghan forces kept firing at Iqbal Post and Post II at Torkham border for least an hour on Pakistan also retaliated to the firing. Such run-away attempts by Afghan forces will tense the border dispute.
Pakistan has the right to retaliate after the exchange of fire but Pakistan’s efforts for peace in Afghanistan would continue and Pakistan has always stressed for peaceful Afghanistan. Dialogue and negotiations is the only political means available to Pakistan to establish peace in Afghanistan, whereas Afghanistan must look into its internal turmoil which doesn’t let establishment of peaceful Afghanistan on globe. There are many factors like political instability, invasion by foreign forces and their strategies of leading Afghanistan in their own way, social injustices, role of non-state actors and economic turbulences which did not let peace and harmony to prevail in Afghanistan. Indian factor is very much influential in Afghan marsh and this type of attack depicts use of Indian strategy where India in order to disturb regional peace carry out such attacks on Pakistan and is constant violator of cross border shelling. Now if Afghanistan adopts such means of violations that it should be clear to all regional players that Pakistan knows very well how to defend its territorial borders and Pakistan with its full rights to defend its sovereignty is not interested in engaging war with any country at any front.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.