Given that Dir shares a border with Afghanistan, as well as many of the tribal agencies in Pakistan, it is no surprise that the area has become an epicentre of the war against militancy. This was underscored by an attack originating from Afghanistan on a checkpost at the Dir border on June 25, which killed six security personnel. The Taliban have already claimed responsibility for the attack but, as has become the case with the militancy scourge in both, Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are a whole host of militant groups that are using Dir as the staging area for their war against the Pakistani state. Apart from the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan — who knows that if it controls Dir, it will have land access to most of Fata — Maulana Fazlullah has also been using the area as the central theatre in his quest to regain power.
After being driven out of Swat in a military operation, Fazlullah began to regroup in Afghanistan. He then launched a series of attacks in Dir, as well as staging kidnappings to continue to frustrate a military, which thought it had defeated him. His reemergence and the continued violence in Dir show the need for cooperation between the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, neither government has been willing to show a united front in this fight, preferring instead to engage in a war of words. Afghanistan blames Pakistan for allowing the Afghan Taliban to easily cross the border, while Pakistan lobs the same accusations at the Afghans for allowing Fazlullah to operate from its territory. The reality is that the two countries share a porous border that is hard to patrol. In addition, there is a lack of interest in preventing attacks in the other country, which means that you have a policy of fighting militancy that is not based on cooperation.
In 2009, after a military operation, the government had declared that Dir has been cleared of militants. That claim, as we can see now, was spurred by wishful thinking rather than reality. If any good comes out of the border checkpost attack, it would be that the government and the military realise that they need to continue to pressurise the Taliban and even launch an operation in Dir. The fight against the Taliban cannot be wished away and needs to be pursued aggressively.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2012.
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