Pak-Afghan Border Reopens After Clashes Kill 15
NEW DELHI: Pakistan is temporarily reopening two border crossings with Afghanistan that had been closed three weeks ago following a string of terror attacks. The decision to reopen the border, albeit for only 48 hours, comes as 15 people were killed in clashes on the border, after militants attacked three border posts in Pakistan's Mohmand tribal area. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.
"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," a statement emailed by the militant group to the media read. The Jamaat-ur-Ahrar is a faction of the TTP.
A Pakistani military statement said that the attack “emphasises the need for required physical presence on the Afghan side of the border” and added that “terrorists are a common threat and must be denied freedom of movement or action along the border."
Pakistan’s Foreign Office announced on Monday that it will be reopening border crossings for 48 hours, enabling people stranded in either country to return home. Pakistan had sealed all border crossings with Afghanistan about three weeks ago, when over 88 people were killed at a shrine in Sindh, along with a string of other attacks across Pakistan at the same time.
Pakistan blamed Afghanistan for allowing its territory to be used to harbour militants that are active in Afghanistan, sealing off the border in response. Ironically, it is Afghanistan that has long held that complaint with Pakistan, as it accuses Islamabad of differentiating between “good” terrorists and “bad” terrorists -- with the former referring to groups active in Afghanistan and India, and the latter being militant groups at war with the Pakistani state, the most prolific of which is the TTP.
Kabul has maintained that Pakistan has allowed its territory to be used against Afghanistan -- a charge Islamabad denies. Interestingly, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tried to reverse this stand when he first came to power, reaching out to Pakistan and in a bid to improve relations. Ghani soon after being sworn-in visited Pakistan, and then Pakistan’s army chief and head of intelligence visited Kabul. Delegations from the two countries made visits across the border; six Afghan army cadets were sent to Pakistan for training; military efforts were coordinated across the shared border; and Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif both issued statements in support of cooperation and bilateral ties.
Ghani’s change in policy was received with skepticism in Afghanistan, with opposing voices growing louder as terror attacks by the Afghan Taliban continued. Ghani was hopeful that Pakistan would use its influence on the Afghan Taliban and bring the group to the negotiating table, but the peace dialogue failed to take off.
As the attacks continued, Ghani’s tone changed, and soon, the new Afghan President was speaking in a language similar to that of Hamid Karzai -- who had been a vocal critic of Pakistan, and under whose Presidentship, relations between the two countries dipped to an all time low.
Tensions continue between the two nations, with both sides now accusing the other of harbouring terrorists, as terror attacks see an upward trend in the two countries. The closure of the border further increased tensions, as many in Afghanistan accused Pakistan of having no real motive to close the borders other than to hurt Afghan civilians.
Hamid Karzai took to Twitter to say that “the government of Pakistan has no legal authority to dictate terms on the Durand Line. While we wish freedom for the people of [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [Fata] from Frontier Crime Regulation [FCR] and other repressive measures, we remind the Government of Pakistan that Afghanistan hasn't and will not recognize the Durand line.”
Ambassador Omar Zakhilwalal took to Facebook to Islamabad for the closures. "Continuous unreasonable closure of legal Pak-Afghan trade and transit routes cannot have any other explanation except to be aimed at hurting the common Afghan people," Zakhilwalal said, arguing that “these points such as Torkham and Spin Boldak have been manned by hundreds of military and other security personnel” and have all the necessary equipment and infrastructure in place to prevent movement of terrorists.