Tensions between Islamabad and Kabul flared up on Wednesday after Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani expressed ‘serious concerns’ over cross-border raids carried out by militants from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory, and called for a swift end to such raids.
As hundreds of militants from Afghanistan launched fresh attacks in Upper Dir, Premier Gilani telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the situation.
“The prime minister expressed Pakistan’s serious concern over the activities of the militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, especially in Dir, Bajaur, Mohmand (tribal agencies) on the Pakistan side and Kunar (province) on the Afghan side,” said an official handout issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Gilani told Karzai that Pakistan Army was exercising utmost restraint, despite repeated cross-border incursions by Afghan militants into Pakistan.
The situation, he said, needed to be defused quickly.
Pakistan has requested International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to convene an immediate meeting for border coordination between regional commanders, the prime minister added.
He also requested the Afghan president to ask Isaf and Afghan military commanders to join Pakistan’s efforts to defuse the situation created by the militants and to avoid any further loss of life of innocent persons on both sides. The statement said President Karzai expressed serious concern over the situation and expressed readiness to send Isaf and Afghan commanders for a meeting to defuse the situation.
He said both countries should constantly remain in touch and jointly frustrate the evil designs of the militants.
“It is a trap of the militants, which can be thwarted through close coordination and understanding,” the Afghan President insisted.
This week, Pakistan and Afghanistan decided to establish a ‘military hotline’ to end border hostilities.
However, border incursions continued unabated and the latest militant attack from Afghanistan is reported to have killed at least five people in Upper Dir.
Pakistan says at least 55 members of the security forces and tribal police have been killed in cross-border raids by the militants from Afghanistan over the past month. Afghan officials, on the other hand, have complained that Pakistan has launched hundreds of rockets into eastern Afghanistan since May, killing at least 40 people.
Several hundred militants crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan on Wednesday and attacked several border villages, triggering fierce gun battles with local militias in which at least two people were reported killed, officials said.
This is the latest spate of such cross-border attacks, which have raised tensions between Kabul and Islamabad and undermined efforts on both sides to crack down on extremist elements in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Paramilitary troops and police were dispatched to the villages under attack in upper Dir district to help armed tribesmen there who are trying to fend off the insurgents, local police official Gul Fazal Khan said.
Security forces killed three militants and captured three others during the skirmishes, said Ghulam Mohammed, a top government official in upper Dir. Two members of a local militia fighting the militants were killed and two others wounded, he added.
Hundreds of militants staged a similar cross-border attack against villages in upper Dir on June 1, sparking off three days of fighting in which at least 25 soldiers and three civilians were killed, according to local officials.
Pakistan has pressed Afghanistan to do more to control extremists on its side of the border and prevent insurgents from crossing the border. It also blames the US for the recent attacks after American forces pulled out of Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province over the past year to focus on other areas.
Pakistan Army denies it intentionally fired rockets into Afghanistan, but acknowledges that several rounds fired at militants conducting cross-border attacks may have landed over the border. Agencies
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2011.