Tuesday June 18, 2024

Pak-Afghan border clashes: Pak officials hopeful of amicable solution soon

Pakistani officials dealing with Afghan Taliban attribute these occurrences to lack of coordination between Kabul and its border security force

By Umar Cheema
December 20, 2022
Bab-e-Dosti at the Pak-Afghan border in Chaman. The News/File
Bab-e-Dosti at the Pak-Afghan border in Chaman. The News/File

ISLAMABAD: Although border clashes between Pakistan and Afghan forces are worrisome for general public and observers of conflict, Pakistani officials dealing with Afghan Taliban attribute these occurrences to lack of coordination between Kabul and its border security force. They are hopeful of amicable solution soon.

“We are more comfortable dealing with the Taliban government than their predecessors in Kabul. Taliban are sincere in resolving the issues. You may disagree with their vision but they don’t harbour any grudge towards Pakistan,” said a well-placed official who is privy to ongoing negotiations with the Taliban government.

However, on the issue of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), he said it was partly an outcome of the wrong decision of a now-retired general who opted to deal with TTP directly instead of doing it through the Afghan Taliban. That general took this decision, the official explained, despite opposition from the army chief and the civilians who were part of negotiations taking place before August 15 last year when the Taliban took over Kabul.

As for the border clashes, the official said Afghan Taliban don’t have trained forces deployed at the border and there is no proper coordination either. In cases, Kabul gets to know once the incident occurs. We have taken this up with the Afghan Taliban, he said, and they are formulating Standard Operating Procedures to follow in the event of any conflict on the border. “This issue will be resolved soon,” he said.

Referring to clashes at Chaman border in which indiscriminate firing was directed at the civilians, the official said when inquired about it, the Afghan Taliban said the border forces used artillery which they were not trained at, therefore, the shelling hit the wrong target due to lack of precision. It turned out that those killed were Afghan nationals on the Pakistani side.

Other than clashes, he said, the relations are improving and increased volume of trade on both sides is a testament of that. According to this official, trade on both sides is going to touch $2 billion very soon as it has also expanded to Central Asia for which Afghanistan is being used as a transit route. As for human rights situations like girls’ education and women empowerment in Afghanistan, he said Pakistan keeps pressing on it but that will take time to improve.

Talking about TTP, the official said the opinion was split on dealing with them as the Doha Accord was being finalised. The Afghan Taliban had offered to bring TTP to the negotiation table with Pakistani authorities. However, keeping in view the past experience, Pakistan wanted the Afghan Taliban to guarantee on TTP behalf that it will not operate in Pakistan. Referring to a general who is now retired, the official said, he was optimistic that Pakistan could directly handle them.

Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and civilian officials involved in consultation were of the view that there shouldn’t be direct negotiations with TTP and the Afghan Taliban must offer guarantee on their behalf. But the retired general was over optimistic. “They are our boys” mentality still exists in some circles, the official said. Eventually, this remained a contentious issue. Faiz took it upon himself to negotiate and others who disagreed on this disassociated themselves from this process.

When an in-camera briefing was held to inform the parliamentary committee on national security, the retired general said Parliament should guide on whether and how to negotiate with TTP. Ironically, by that time, he had held several meetings with TTP leadership in Kabul as well as in Peshawar and ordered release of hundreds of militants besides allowing many of TTP operatives to settle in Pakistan.

Asked what Afghan Taliban are doing to control TTP, the official said Haibatullah Akhundzada has recently declared in a video statement that fighting against Pakistan is haram (forbidden) because it is a Muslim country. But since TTP claimed having taken oath of allegiance of Akhunzada, Pakistan presses on Afghan Taliban to declare disassociation with them. The Afghan Taliban don’t have leverage over TTP beyond a certain point. Pushing them too much means they would join hands with Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K). Therefore, Pakistan will take action against TTP instead of negotiating with them.

As the Afghan Taliban is facing threat from IS-K (also known as Daesh Khorasan), a militant group having presence in Afghanistan by drawing recruits from South Asia and Central Asia, Taliban have complained a number of times that they enter into Afghanistan via Pakistan and that must be stopped. Commenting on this, the official said since these individuals use travel documents like other passengers, it is becoming difficult to trace which one is affiliated with IS-K.