“Disputed Borders and Militant Operations: The Fight on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Border”
By: Christian Hawkes
Late October 2019 saw border clashes between Afghanistan and Pakistan that led to the deaths of three Afghan civilians. These clashes began after Afghan forces and local militias stopped the Pakistani military from establishing a military installation along the border in eastern Kunar province. Afghan sources claimed that Pakistani forces fired mortars and rockets at villages in the border district of Nari during these clashes.
Such cross border attacks are not uncommon, and each country accuses the other of being responsible. Skirmishes over a three-day period in 2017 resulted in the deaths of more than fifty Afghan soldiers (Shams 2017), April 2018 saw two Pakistani soldiers killed (Gul 2018), and May 2019 was marked by four civilian deaths on the Afghan side of the border. (Khaama Press 2019). Clashes between the two began in 1949-50, and have continued ever since.
These clashes stem primarily from a dispute over borders. The precise location of the border between the two, known as the Durand Line, is disputed by both countries, and provinces near the border are claimed by both. The militant groups that thrive in these contested areas only further complicate matters.
The Durand Line was drawn in 1893 by Britain, which controlled the area until the 1940’s. (Akbari 2019) Afghanistan has never recognized this border, claiming that it was an artificial border created by Britain, and has demanded either independence or control of the Pashtun-dominated provinces in Pakistan’s west. Pakistan, meanwhile, insists that the Line is the official border, and the disputed provinces are solely theirs. (Bajoria 2009, Akbari 2019) When Pakistan, therefore, builds security fences along the Line, Afghanistan views this as infringing on its territory and an attempt to legitimize the border. (Ramachandran 2018) Attempts by Pakistan to establish military installations and security fences along the disputed border are met with fierce resistance from tribal militias loyal to Kabul and Afghan security forces.
The contested border makes it easy for Islamist organizations to cross and carry out operations. Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of not doing enough to prevent Taliban forces from carrying out military operations across the border. Kabul, in turn, accuses Islamabad of doing virtually nothing to counter the Taliban and al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan. (Akbari 2019) Further complicating matters are Pakistan’s alliance with the United States in the War on Terror, as well as their alleged past support for the Taliban and other Islamist groups. (Bajoria 2009) Each country accuses the other of being irresponsible in policing the border and demands that the other side do more to fill the gaps that allow militants to cross with ease.
So long as the border remains in dispute, it is unlikely that cross-border attacks will cease. Meanwhile, militant Islamic groups such as the Taliban thrive in the contested areas. Frustrated by the finger-pointing, the United States has taken to unilaterally attacking targets in these areas, which only complicates an already-complicated border situation. The border disputes seem inevitable, and as long as Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to disagree on this issue, the only result will be more dead soldiers and civilians.
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