What happened on Friday near the Pak-Afghan border in Chaman area is an inexcusable provocation.
Twelve people, ten of them civilians, a soldier and an FC man lost their lives and 40 others lay wounded after Afghan forces opened fire on FC personnel accompanying census staff in two border villages.
An inevitable retaliatory fire, according to Afghan government, left nine people dead and 37 injured on its side. Pakistan also closed the Friendship Gate, bringing daily travellers and commercial goods-laden trucks to a screeching halt on either side. The ISPR explained that Afghan border police had been creating hurdles in the conduct of the census process in the divided villages of Killi Luqman and Killi Jahangir since April 30 despite having been notified about it in advance. Hence it was not a spur of the moment action based on some misunderstanding. That it was a deliberate attack is further confirmed by an Afghan official’s claim that Pakistan was using the pretext of census to carry out “malicious activities and was provoking villages against the [Afghan] government.”
Part of this animus arises from the present government’s refusal to recognise the Durand Line that marks the internationally recognised border, and assertion of its claims on villages along that line. Bringing hostilities to an end during a discussion over the hotline with his Pakistani counterpart, Afghan Director General of Military Operations acknowledged as much, saying the attack was the result of his side’s mistake in identifying the boundary in those areas.
And that the “border is in between villages and not at the ditch” as perceived by his side. In that case, the confusion could have been sorted out through direct talks as was done later. Exacerbating tensions, however, is an overhang of mutual distrust on account of the prevailing security situation.
For its part, Pakistan has been trying to clear the air of suspicion. During the recent days, a parliamentary mission headed by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, followed by a high-level military delegation led by Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant General Bilal Akbar and the ISI chief Lieutenant General Naveed Mukhtar visited Kabul for meetings with relevant Afghan interlocutors.
The Speaker also invited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for a visit, only to be declined by him. Instead, he has chosen to blame Pakistan for his troubles, saying he would not visit Pakistan until perpetrators behind the attack in Mazar-i-Sharif, American University in Kabul, and Kandahar are handed over to the Afghan authorities. Such unsubstantiated allegations will only please interested outsiders who see advantage in keeping Pak-Afghan situation on the boil even though Ghani likes to describe the two countries – as did his predecessor Hamid Karzai – as twins.
President Ghani has his own difficulties at home. The unity government he heads is as disunited as it was at the start. At least 40 percent of the country is under the Taliban control, while the Taliban have escalated their offensive. Laying all blame at Pakistan’s door may help him and others in the Kabul government, but it will only muddy the waters some more and achieve nothing. Belligerence is in neither country’s interest. The two sides ought to sit together and address their mutual grievances without any further loss of time. -Business Recorder