Pakistan had to take the heat from its neighbors in two separate border disputes recently. While the Afghan Taliban administration and its military wing strongly objected to temporary border fencing along the disputed Durand Line, India has scored a point against Pakistan along the Line of Actual Control (LOC), the de facto border in the Kashmir region.
While Pakistan is believed to be deeply involved in Afghan affairs after the US military’s exit from the country and established a good rapport with the Taliban leadership, the border incident may have come as a surprise for Islamabad.
According to local media, Taliban militants destroyed barbed wires built by Pakistani security forces along the Durand Line in the eastern Nangarhar region, indicating renewed border tensions between the two countries.
Durand Line is the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan which was drawn by the British and later inherited by Pakistan. Afghanistan has always refused to recognize this boundary, leading to a decades-long dispute between the two neighbors.
The barbed wires were disassembled and sent to Afghanistan, according to the Afghan news outlet Khama Press (KP). A video of the incident had gone viral, showing Afghan forces threatening their Pakistani counterparts with serious ramifications if the barbed wire was erected along the border again.
“If you look bad at Afghanistan the next time, I’ll come here and make this area (just a few hundred meters from Pakistani soil) my frontline to fight war with you,” an Afghan official is heard saying in the video. “I swear by Allah, fighting war with you makes me happier than waging war with Jews.”
#Breaking Taliban are seizing barbed wire that Pakistan was going to use to seize Afghan territory, that the Taliban has already seized. #Afghanistan #pakistan #Talibans #India pic.twitter.com/ddutJkIn9f
— The HbK (@The5HbK) December 21, 2021
According to Khama Press, Pakistani soldiers unleashed artillery on Kunar province following the incident in Nangarhar province’s Gushta area. This indicates that both sides have upped the ante along the disputed boundary.
This is ironic given Pakistan is said to have played a key role in the entire US-Taliban talks and the subsequent events that saw the American withdrawal and Taliban takeover of the country.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s arch-rival India got it to halt construction along the LOC. However, it is not clear if the Pakistani rangers were constructing barracks or bunkers there.
The Indian Army had formally raised the issue of Pakistan Rangers starting a construction project just across the LoC, opposite Kupwara district in India’s Jammu and Kashmir union territory. Pakistan’s action apparently violated mutual agreements and understandings of maintaining a status quo on the de facto border unless the other side was informed in advance.
Teetwal Sector, Kupwara, #Pakistan–#India LOC: Indian media shows video of the Indian Army requesting the Pakistan Army to halt construction of bunkers that would put it’s installations in the area at a geographical disadvantage. pic.twitter.com/IiztJJU3ln
— AEROSINT Division PSF (@PSFAERO) December 21, 2021
Pakistan Rangers who had begun constructing a structure on the other side of the LoC, but which was within 500 meters of the fence, immediately halted their work.
As a general rule, neither Indians nor Pakistanis are allowed to develop anything within the 500-meter range without first informing the other side in advance.
The Taliban-Pakistan Equations
The first Taliban government was deposed by the United States after the 9/11 attacks. Under the pressure of US and NATO forces, Taliban militants and leaders were dispersed. Many of them eventually escaped to Pakistan.
While it is true that Pakistan was an ally of the United States, it is also true that Taliban fighters and top leaders took refuge in Balochistan and Waziristan. Balochistan was also home to the strong Quetta Shura, which executed all the decisions of the Taliban. Pakistan has always strongly denied these claims.
Many ministries and high-ranking officials in Afghanistan’s former administration have spoken out about Pakistan’s participation in the Taliban’s growing dominance. However, following the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan, Pakistanis are fearful.
The Taliban freed a number of ‘Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’ fanatics operating in Pakistan’s border tribal areas shortly after taking power in August, according to BBC.
Even before the Taliban came to power, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) posed a significant threat to Pakistan. For more than a decade, the Pakistan Army has fought a war with the TTP on the Afghan border. In Pakistan, negotiations and settlements with the TTP remain a touchy matter.
The TTP and the Taliban share ideological similarities. The TTP, like the Taliban, seeks to break Sharia law in Pakistan’s border areas. The TTP could gain more influence and expand its activities if the Taliban gain control, said BBC.
This could lead to a new round of tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan and when seen along with the new Taliban assertion on the Durand line, things could heat up between the two countries that have so far put up an amicable front.
To make matters worse, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid’s recent remark, in which he questioned Pakistan’s democratic framework, came as a shocker after all the assistance Pakistan is said to have offered to the Taliban in their quest for reorganization till their final assumption of power.
During a television interview, Zabiullah Mujahid had stated, “The political structure in Pakistan does not reflect the Islamic system. Their religious law does not allow for that system to operate. Religion is unimportant to them; only growth is vital.”
The rift within the Taliban government had become visible shortly after it took power. The Taliban’s Kandahari division led by Mullah Mohammed Yaqoob Omari, and the Kabul faction led by Sirajuddin Haqqani were reported to be fighting each other.
The Kandahari party did not want Pakistani spy agency ISI to interfere. The Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, on the other hand, was said to be using Haqqanis to play power games in Kabul, according to a report by Hindustan Times.
So while the tensions with India are normal for Pakistan, it’s the other neighbor that Islamabad should be wary of.
Even though there remain some issues between Pakistan and the Taliban, the former has advocated for unhindered aid to an impoverished Afghanistan. Islamabad also applauded the UN Security Council resolution easing the flow of supplies to Afghanistan on December 23 and expressed optimism that the world would respond quickly to the needs of the Afghan people, reported the Dawn.
Afghan Taliban security chief of Paktia province thanks Pakistani government and people for supporting their Afghan brothers in current difficult time #PakStandsWithAfghanistan #Pakistan #Afghanistan ? A. Umari pic.twitter.com/KUXAEQCy9V
— Islamuddin Sajid (@islamudinsajid) December 24, 2021
The Security Council approved a resolution submitted by the United States that allows humanitarian aid to be supplied to Afghanistan in order to prevent the country’s economic collapse. While Pakistan welcomes the aid, on one hand, it called for the unfreezing of the Afghan assets in order to ease its economic woes.
On its part, the Afghan Taliban security chief of Paktia province thanked the Pakistani government and its people for supporting it in a difficult time, according to a video that surfaced on Twitter.
Nevertheless, a clearer picture of the actual nature of the bilateral relationship between the two neighbors divided by a disputed border will emerge in days to come