Border coordination: Chink in Afghan chain of command faulted for border flare-up

Pakistani officials say Pak-Afghan relationship has vitally improved

Jamshed Baghwan July 05, 2015
Pakistani officials say Pak-Afghan relationship has vitally improved. PHOTO: EXPRESS


A recent border skirmish and the subsequent diplomatic row aside, authorities on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line believe that both border coordination and the overall relationship between Islamabad and Kabul have ‘vitally improved’ in recent months. They, however, fault the chain of command in Afghanistan for sporadic border flare-ups.

On July 1, two Pakistani soldiers were wounded when a rocket was fired at an under-construction border gate in the Angoor Adda area in South Waziristan Agency. Small arms fire was followed forcing Pakistani troops to retaliate.

Subsequently, Pakistan’s Ambassador in Kabul Abrar Hussain was summoned to the Afghan foreign ministry on July 3 to protest what Afghan forces claimed was ‘cross-border shelling by Pakistani troops’. The next day, Afghanistan’s Ambassador in Islamabad Janan Mosazai was called to the Foreign Office to protest the cross-border firing and detention of a Pakistani consulate official in Kandahar by Afghan authorities.

Background interviews with Pakistani security officials reveal that the two sides had mutually agreed to the construction of a gate at the Angoor Adda border. Still, it came under attack from Afghan forces, which shows ‘Afghanistan’s weak chain of command’, a senior military official told The Express Tribune.

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“Afghanistan’s functional arrangements are embryonic and it’ll take the chain of command some time to start taking orders from the highest offices in the country. Until that time we will show maximum restraint,” the official added.

“We were told to move back 30 meters. We complied. Again we were told to move back. Again we complied,” the official said while referring to the June 1 border skirmish. He added that the decision to build border gates at Ghulam Khan and Angoor Adda was taken at the top level from both sides – but the structure was damaged in the firing by Afghan forces.

This is not the first time that border skirmishes have erupted between Pakistani and Afghan forces. Earlier, the construction of a gate at the Torkham border crossing had sparked similar panic on the Afghan side, the official said. However, once the construction was completed, the Afghan authorities realised its importance and subsequently it was decided to build similar gates elsewhere on the long and porous border, he added.  The matter was resolved in a meeting between corps commanders from both sides of the border. After the first meeting between Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani orders were passed by the former for maximum restraint.

Though sporadic border skirmishes point to fragility in the Pak-Afghan relationship, Pakistani officials see a lot of hope “We have the best relationships with the Afghan side at the top most level,” another senior military official said. “His [Ghani’s] statements might be to pacify the people who are against cooperation with Pakistan,” he added.

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The official said the only time in recent months where an attack was retaliated was in Asman Panga. “Eight mortars [fired from the Afghan side] landed near our border post in the area,” he said while giving details of the incident. “Our Afghan counterparts said they have no live ammo in the area, once it was clear only then we retaliated,” he said, adding that the government in Kabul was weak and the country faced problems on several fronts.  The 2,600-kilometre long border with Afghanistan comprises difficult mountainous terrain, while the  overall security cooperation between the two sides has improved substantially. “Minor troubles keep brewing but restraint is the only way for a peaceful resolution,” said the official while quoting an adage, “you get to choose friends but not your neighbours”.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2015.