Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Pakistan and Afghanistan, spoiling for a full-blown fight ?
With a series of spectacular attacks over the past few months, first in the provinces and then in the Afghan capital Kabul, the Talban have captured attention and even prompted comparisons with the Viet Cong’s Tet offensive. But they are not the only ones attacking Afghanistan, according to The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). It lists a series of attacks from early this year to build the case that Pakistan has joined the Taliban in what it called a “military invasion of Afghanistan”, driving another nail in the faltering U.S. effort in the country.
Beginning from the February bombardment of Afghan border police posts in Nangarhar and Khost provinces in eastern Afghanistan by Pakistani planes to the firing of hundreds of rockets last month in Kunar and Nuristan, Pakistani forces have stepped up cross border action, MEMRI said in a report. It quoted Afghan officials as saying the artillery and missile strikes backed by air intrusions were an “act of intrusion.”
By August there had been 50 incidents of border violation by Pakistani forces, Afghan border police commander Aminullah Amarkhel said. He also made the startling claim that Pakistani forces had established 16 checkpoints inside the territory of Afghanistan in the east, taken control of some parts and even offered offered citizenship to the local tribes. He said there was proof that Pakistan provided Pakistani citizenship cards to Afghans in the eastern border towns, particularly in Kunar and Nuristan provinces.
It’s hard to tell what is going on in the remote and rugged area straddling the two countries. Pakistan says it has legitimate security concerns with many of the militant groups fighting the state operating from sanctuaries just over the border in Afghanistan. With foreign forces stretched and focused largely on securing the Afghan south, the eastern region was left largely uncovered, allowing militant groups to reconstitute themselves. Indeed there is growing concern that some militant groups may have shifted their base from Pakistan’s Waziristan strongholds to provinces such as Kunar.
Pakistan has in recent months faced down attacks from groups of up to 400 militants crossing the border from Afghanistan. On Sunday, Pakistani soldiers killed 30 Afghan militants who had crossed the border to attack the Pakistani army, it said. One Pakistani soldier was killed and four were wounded in the latest frontier incident, which lasted close to an hour when some 200 militants launched the attack. The Pakistani army says that with the Afghans and the foreign forces unable to crack down on militant nests in the east, it risks losing the hard-fought gains made against them in offensives over the past few years on its side of the border.
Whatever the claims and the counter-claims, what is indisputable is that ties between the two countries are rapidly deteriorating. Tension has been high since Afghan officials accused Pakistan’s main intelligence agency of masterminding the September 20 assassination of Kabul’s chief peace negotiator with the Taliban. Pakistan strongly denied the allegations.
A strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan during President Hamid Karzai’s trip to New Delhi last week will further rankle Pakistan which has doing everything it can to limit Indian involvement in what it sees as its immediate sphere of influence. The agreement lifts the relationship to another level just as Islamabad’s ties with Kabul nosedive. No longer will Indian involvement be confined to offering aid and development; it will also get involved in the training of Afghan security forces as they prepare to take over responsibilities from Western fores by 2014.
India was a great friend, while Pakistan was a twin brother, Karzai said trying to sooth ruffled feathers in Islamabad.
At the moment, though, the brothers are looking dangerously estranged.