Pakistan has finally given its official reaction to the recent incidents along the Afghan border where Taliban soldiers tried to remove a portion of the fencing. The fencing along the 2,600 km long porous border with Afghanistan is part of Pakistan’s initiative to regulate trade and movement of people, besides ensuring better security. The first such incident of disruption to the fencing was reported on December 18, a day before Pakistan was to host the extraordinary session of the foreign ministers of OIC member states to garner international support for the Taliban government.
But Pakistan, instead of giving a reaction, tried to cool down the situation through efforts behind the scenes. The Foreign Office kept mum despite a statement by an Afghan defence ministry spokesperson that they would not allow the “illegal fencing” which “divides families on both sides”.
A senior official downplayed the incident at the time and said both sides agreed to mutually resolve the issue. However, a few days later more such incidents took place where local Taliban fighters were seen removing the fence.
More Taliban officials spoke against the fencing. This finally led the DG ISPR to give a formal reaction at a press conference on Wednesday. Major General Babar Iftikhar made it clear that the fencing along the Pakistan-Afghan border would be completed as planned as the “blood of Pakistani martyrs” was involved in the crucial initiative.
“The purpose of the fencing is not to divide the people but to protect them. This is the fence for peace .. work on it will continue and the fencing will be here to stay,” said Maj Gen Babar, the chief military spokesperson. But he clarified that recent incidents at the border were a ‘localised problem’ and Pakistan had great understanding with the current government in Kabul to resolve such issues through diplomatic channels. It was evident from his statement that Pakistan was trying to downplay the incident since it believes this situation can be exploited by spoilers within and outside Afghanistan.
Official sources say Pakistan took up the issue at the highest level with the Taliban government and conveyed it in clear terms that Pakistan would not compromise on the fencing. The Taliban leadership was also informed that Pakistan considers Durand Line an international border. Successive regimes in Afghanistan, including the US-backed governments in the past, have disputed this demarcation, which has historically remained a contentious issue between the two neighbouring countries.
The border was named after British civil servant Mortimer Durrand, who had fixed the limits of British India after consultation with the then Afghan government in 1893.
Sources said the Taliban leadership was worried about the conduct of some local commanders involved in targeting the fence. The Taliban government seemed to have no control over such elements.
Nevertheless, Pakistan has decided to observe maximum restraint and will not get bogged down because of these incidents. One official said Pakistan could easily respond to these transgressions from the other side but would not do so in the larger strategic interest. Any escalation in tension with the current government could cause a serious blow to Pakistan’s interests. The policy of Pakistan is clear that it has a bigger picture in mind.
The bigger picture is to ensure that there is some semblance of stability and sustainability in Afghanistan, something that directly benefits Pakistan. Pakistan even tried to mend fences with the US-backed previous administrations despite their public hostility towards Islamabad and would go the extra mile to avoid any strain in ties with the Taliban government. Therefore, Pakistan may privately convey its concerns to the Taliban leadership about such incidents but would not get indulged in any blame game publically. Pakistani policymakers are confident that these irritants will be resolved through appropriate channels.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10, 2022.
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