EDITORIAL: Two is a trend, they say in the world of data analytics. And considering that Afghan border forces have twice lobbed mortar and artillery fire across the Chaman border into civilian areas on the Pakistani side, causing deaths and injuries to innocent men, women and children, it’s time for Islamabad to treat this hostility as a new trend in Pak-Afghan relations.
According to reports, the first incident took place when some Afghan nationals were refused entry into Pakistan because they lacked necessary travel documentation, which upset Taliban fighters manning the border enough to launch an unprovoked, unjustified mortar attack on Pakistani civilians. And just when the local press began questioning the government’s silence on the issue, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif informed parliament that Kabul had “apologised” and that was the end of the matter.
But then came the second attack which, according to the military, targeted soldiers repairing the border fence that was damaged in the first incident. Then the firing continued throughout the day leaving one more civilian dead and many more injured once again. This time, though, Kabul did not apologise, instead it blamed Pakistan for firing first; which, according to local people, is not how it went down. Surely, this calls for re-examining Pakistan’s unconditional support to the Afghan government since the Taliban returned to power, especially at a time when they face crippling international isolation.
This is not the first time the Taliban have given Islamabad reason to be concerned. Soon after regaining power they went back on their word and refused to crack down on TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) pockets on their side of the border. It was, in fact, the Taliban that pushed Islamabad into talks with TTP, which allowed the militia to regroup, unilaterally withdraw from the ceasefire and resume its “war” on the state of Pakistan. It’s also true that the Taliban, unlike other Afghan administrations that have been more hostile to Pakistan, do not consider the Durand Line a serious, legitimate border and were never happy with the border fence which Islamabad erected as a last resort because there was no other way of checking militant movement into Pakistan. And it is certain that they will not stop attacking it, and areas around it, every now and then regardless of the state of their relations with Islamabad at any given point in time.
Pakistan needs to draw a line and convey very clearly to Kabul that crossing it ever again will have very serious consequences. If they don’t consider the relationship with Pakistan worth protecting and nurturing, even though it is their only link with the outside world and an on-ground game-changer when they are desperate for aid, then Islamabad should not bend over backwards for them any longer either. They forget that they would never have survived the long war with occupying forces, much less win it, without Pakistan. And it is just not in our strategic interest to present their humane side to the world, and face stiff criticism for it, when they feel that they can kill our women and children and get away with it.
Kabul is advised to take a step back and check its new policy. It is already isolated, while facing stiff resistance from the so-called Islamic State (IS) and other such militias on the ground, and now it is antagonising its only pillar of support. The Pakistani military knows very well how to ensure peace inside its borders. Last time it stopped short of pursuing its enemies across the Afghan border. But if the Afghan government is bent upon testing its patience, as well as its capability, it might just get what it is begging for.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022