Afghanistan-Pakistan Cross Border Tensions

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have further deteriorated through the activities of militants that continue to wage guerrilla attacks throughout both nations. Recently, Pakistan has faced the brunt force of these militants through a series of terrorist attacks in urban centers such as Lahore, a court complex in Khyber Pukthunkwa’s (KP) district of Charsadda, and a suicide bombing at a sacred sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in the province of Balochistan, among a list of others. These attacks have exacerbated the security situation in Pakistan and have led to the closure of border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The most recent clash between militants and Pakistani security forces occurred in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal area with Pakistani taliban fighters attacking three separate border posts. As a result of the clashes, ten Pakistani Taliban fighters were killed and five Pakistani soldiers lost their lives. This most recent attack has been claimed by a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), called Jamaat-ur-Ahrar. In a statement sent out by the faction to media, it stated that this “attack was a part of Jamaat-ur-Ahrar's previously announced Operation Ghazi, which targets the enemies of Islam and is ongoing with full force.”

February has been one of the deadliest months in Pakistan’s history with hundreds killed within attacks throughout all of its provinces. In response to the attacks, Pakistan accused Afghan authorities of harboring militants. A claim that Afghanistan has rejected and has accused Pakistan of doing so in the past. In response to the series of attacks carried out by Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, Pakistan closed off all border crossings with Afghanistan, stranding both Afghan visitors and perishable goods on the border.

The closure of the border has been called by one of Pakistan’s main opposition political party leaders, Imran Khan of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, as “building into a humanitarian crisis.” These concerns have been echoed by another PTI official, Shireen Mazari, who stated that “terrorism will not be finished by closing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.” The border, which had been closed for more than two weeks, has resulted in the loss of around four million dollars a day for both sides. An Afghan Chamber of Commerce official stated that Pakistani traders are facing the brunt of these losses estimated at encompassing around 80% of total amount lost.

A recent New York Times articles cited that Afghan officials are protesting the closing of the border and believe that Pakistan is using the suicide bombing of the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine as an excuse to exert further pressure on Afghanistan. Afghan officials have cited the openness and porousness of the Pak-Afghan border and the exclusive focus by Pakistani officials on formal border crossings, as a means to targets innocent people rather than militants.

Relations between the two neighbors have continued to deteriorate with rhetoric and actions that further undermine cooperation. After the deadly blast at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Pakistan demanded that Afghanistan hand over a list of 76 terrorists wanted in connection to terrorist activities in the country. Afghanistan responded with producing a list of 85 individuals that they wanted from across the border in Pakistan. Further heightening tensions, Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Asif, stated that it is acceptable for Pakistan to target terrorists across the border in Afghanistan regardless of the Afghan stance. Asif specifically stated that “terrorists must be denied freedom of movement along the border” and that “Kabul has admitted that it does not have control over areas from where terrorist attacks are launched and, after this admission, Pakistan has the right to act against those terrorists...We will not stay quiet if our soldiers are martyred.”

Furthermore, Pakistan has also actively conducted artillery shelling of border areas in Afghanistan to target terrorists causing the Afghan defense ministry to respond by calling the shelling “acts of aggression” against Afghanistan. Afghan officials, so far, have stated that over 70 artillery rockets from Pakistan have landed in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar.

Faced with mounting criticism and repeated calls from Afghanistan to lift the blockade, Pakistan has agreed to open the border for two days to assist nationals of both countries to return to their respective nation. Pakistan’s Foreign Office released a statement saying that “in order to provide an opportunity to those nationals of Afghanistan who had come to Pakistan on valid visas, and wish to return to their country, the Government of Pakistan has decided to open the border crossings at Torkham and Chaman on March 7 and 8.”

Recent reports from the border state that “people throng Torkham as border reopens” with thousands hoping to cross back to their respective country. Tensions between the two nations are expected to remain high albeit the recent defrosting of bilateral relations.