‘Pakistan in a fix on Afghan strategy’

Recent setbacks, retired diplomats call for a review of policy


Kamran Yousuf December 21, 2022
A view of Foreign Office building in Islamabad. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD:

Pakistan is in a fix on the Afghan strategy after recent setbacks that have compelled critics and retired diplomats to call for a review of its policy towards the Afghan Taliban.

Background discussions with the people dealing with the matter told The Express Tribune that despite apparent friction in ties with Kabul, Pakistan has no option but to seek engagement with the Afghan Taliban regime.

The incidents of the last few weeks have put Pakistan’s relationship with the Afghan Taliban in jeopardy.

Islamabad was already upset over Kabul’s failure to tackle the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the border clashes in Chaman further deepened the crisis.

At least 19 Pakistani civilians lost their lives and several others were injured in two separate incidents at Chaman-Spin Boldak border when the Afghan border security forces resorted to unprovoked firing.

After the first incident in which 18 Pakistani civilians were killed, Pakistan reacted cautiously and did not even bother to summon the Afghan envoy.

The Foreign Office merely issued a statement condemning the incident while urging the need for resolving the matter through dialogue.

The cautious response from Pakistan raised many eyebrows as many were expecting a tough reaction. However, sources said the reason behind Pakistan’s guarded response was to avoid further escalation.

Four days later, the Afghan security forces yet again resorted to firing and this time Pakistan had to call in the Afghan envoy in Islamabad to record a strong protest.

But despite Pakistan’s strong reaction there have been behind the scene efforts to de-escalate the situation.

“We are in a fix. We have no option but to seek engagement with the Afghan Taliban,” a source said.

Officials while speaking on the condition of anonymity said the recent border clashes could have been avoided had there been better communication and coordination between the two countries.

The cause of the clashes was attributed to Pakistani authorities’ efforts to repair a fence along the border. There were clashes that took place earlier too over the fencing issue. However, the matter was resolved as Pakistan agreed not to fence the border without taking the Afghan Taliban into confidence.

Authorities said Pakistan had already completed 90 per cent of the fencing along the 2,600km-long and porous border. But like the previous Afghan governments, the Taliban regime too is opposed to the border fencing.

The opposition stems from the fact that this would separate the families living on both sides for centuries and also affect the border.

But Pakistani officials were adamant that the fencing was necessary to check the movement of militants, who use the rugged and porous border to shuttle between the two countries.

The sources said the two sides were making efforts to establish a mechanism to avoid any misunderstanding in the future. But the sources admitted the challenges ahead as there were groups in the Afghan Taliban ranks which do not look at Pakistan favourably.

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