Border Attack - Chaman Along the Pak-Afghan Border

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AN ugly and seemingly premeditated attack resulting in the death of several civilians and a couple of security personnel, the incident near Chaman along the Pak-Afghan border on Friday is a grim reminder of the toll on ordinary civilians of tense relations between the two states. There was no reason at all for Pakistani census teams accompanied by security personnel in border villages to come under attack. Neither the enumerators nor the security personnel posed any kind of cross-border threat. Moreover, Afghan security forces stationed at the border were given advance notice of the census-taking activity. It appears the Afghans used the very information given to them by the Pakistani side in the hope of preventing any misunderstanding to attack the villagers and the census teams. Perhaps it was to lay down a marker in the ongoing diplomatic and security tussles between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Or perhaps it was the age-old refusal of Afghanistan to officially recognise the Durand Line — the census seemingly a threat because it would officially count the villagers on the Pakistani side of the border as Pakistani citizens. Whatever the case, the attack was utterly unacceptable. Thankfully, urgent diplomatic and military contact by Pakistan caused the firing and shelling from the Afghan side to stop.

In the aftermath of the attack, with the Afghan side conceding that it had made a mistake, Kabul must act to repair an increasingly fractious bilateral relationship. With President Ashraf Ghani refusing to visit the country and all manner of Afghan officials routinely attacking Pakistan, it is inevitable that the climate of hostility will permeate the lower tiers of a security force that is young and prone to indiscipline. The message from the very apex of the Afghan leadership is itself the problem; if the country’s leaders routinely allege that Pakistan is at war with Afghanistan, will not even lightly armed Pakistani security personnel on a peaceful mission in the border region be regarded as legitimate targets? The senseless and dangerous demonisation of Pakistan by Afghanistan must stop. On Pakistan’s part too some adjustments are needed. Perhaps the immediate challenge is an internal one: what is Pakistan’s Afghan policy and who decides it? Instead of separate military and civilian Pakistani delegations to Afghanistan, potentially conveying very different messages, and instead of separate deliberations inside Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should convene his national security team to jointly debate the latest challenges to the relationship with our western neighbour.

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