26 Feb 2017
Writer: Mohammad Reza Gulkohi

No end to tension between Afghanistan, Pakistan

A suicide attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Pakistan's Sindh province that left more than 90 people dead with ISIS taking responsibility has led to the closure of border checkposts and rocket attacks across the frontier on what Islamabad says are "terrorist bases".
Hundreds of people are stranded on the border; an extraordinary military situation is prevailing in northern and southern Waziristan. The Afghan government has summoned the Pakistani ambassador in Kabul to protest against the unprovoked firing, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has provided a list of extremist groups based in Pakistan and sought Islamabad's help to eliminate terrorism.
This is not the first time that diplomatic relations have hit a low and both sides have traded accusations for not taking decisive action against terrorist groups. Apart from knee-jerk actions, both Kabul and Islamabad must have long-term strategies to stop the killing of innocent people by terrorists.
Pakistan's decision to shut the border ports hurts ordinary people more than armed anti-government opponents. For landlocked Afghanistan the checkpoints are the main exit for convoys of trucks laden with agricultural products. All imports into Afghanistan also use the land route to enter the country.
But the mountainous border also allows insurgents to slip in and out of both countries. Naqibullah Natiqi, expert on security and political issues says, "Many border passes, located in mountainous areas, are off the road and out of the control of both countries, and gives a chance to terrorists, militias and illegal migrants to get themselves to Pakistan or from Pakistan to Afghanistan even when roads between the two countries are closed. Hence closing the border is not effective in (stopping illegal) movement that Pakistan sees as an issue of concern. It would (only) create problems in trade relations between the two countries. The only use it has is symbolic – an act by Pakistan to show that it is against the entry of terrorist groups on its land."
Hurting both sides
Blockading the border is as much detrimental for Pakistan as it is for Afghanistan. Hamid Karimi, an expert in economic issues believes, "While Pakistan is in serious need of economic cooperation with its neighbours including Afghanistan, Islamabad seems to have shut its eyes to this basic need by closing the border checkposts, and thinking only of countering the influence of 'terrorists' from Afghanistan."
Halima Pazhwak, a civil society activist, considers Pakistan's accusations are baseless. "Pakistan itself is a factor in shaping terrorist groups in the region and their presence in Pakistan is also a reality," she says.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government has repeatedly stated that Pakistan was a safe place for terrorists who make trouble for the government and Afghan people. Terrorists groups like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba are fighting American forces based in Afghanistan and also launching terrorist actions against Afghan people from the safety of Pakistan. The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a list of 32 terrorist bases in Pakistan to Islamabad from where terrorist activities have been launched against Afghanistan. The list was handed over along with a letter by the Afghan ambassador to Pakistani authorities with a request that Islamabad take action against the groups. The bases are located in Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar in Pakistan. Moreover, names of 85 top members of Taleban and other terrorist groups including the Haqqani Network have been given to Pakistan. Islamabad has been asked to arrest these individuals. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pakistan's first response to the list has been positive. The ministry has warned that it would petition the UN for help if Islamabad fails to take action.
What is the way forward?
The reality is that the uprooting of extremism in Pakistan is not possible through war, arrests or closing the border. It needs a comprehensive strategy – political, social and military. Kamran Rastagar, a political analyst believes, "If Pakistan really wants to uproot extremism it is necessary that it should prepare conditions in Pakistan that cause elimination of the idea of extremism and limits ground for growth of terror.
This would involve creating suitable means of living for residents of border areas and deprived people, and also raising awareness through media and government machinery of the dangers of extremism to local communities and the country. More than anything else, the government of Pakistan must now realise that the use of terrorism as a political tool can only backfire and hurt the people of the country.
Afghanistan's international allies have called for coordinated action by Kabul and Islamabad to counter terrorism. NATO General Charles H. Cleveland, spokesperson for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has called the border tension "dangerous". He also said shelters of terrorists in both countries should be located and destroyed.
Noor Ahmad Fayeq, an expert on international affairs, cautioned it would be a long haul. "Current tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan have a history of many years. The presence of terrorist groups on Pakistani territory and their activities on both sides of the border are not concerns that can be solved immediately. It will also require pressure from international organisations."

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