By: Shah Zaman Khan & Abdul Matin Sarfraz
“Our lives do not serve any real cause other than to be the part of collateral damage.” With tears channeling on his cheeks with salty water, 50 years old Zakirullah Mamond commented, who belongs to Sarakai, a small village in Bajaur agency.
On 16 June 2011, hundreds of militants attacked the three villages of Sarakai, Mokha and Manro Jangal, which are situated on the Pak-Afghan border, about 60 km away towards the west of agency headquarters Khar. In this attack Zakir lost his three close relatives including wife, son and sister. While wiping his tears, he says, “I don’t care, who fired the rocket; Afghanistan, Pakistan or NATO? All I know is, the rocket destroyed my loving family.”
The latest of the series of the cross-border attack took place in Upper Dir, in which 13 soldiers on patrol were killed. The incident points to the precariousness of the situation on the Durand Line, the border that divides Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan has formally lodged protest with Afghanistan and asked it to stop occurrence of such attacks in future.
Zakirullah is not alone in sharing this fate. So far now 703 innocent people have reportedly been killed in different terror activities during the first quarter of the 2012. Of the existing tally, the maximum number of people was killed in cross border aggression including firing and drone attacks.
What steps should be taken to bring an end to the loss of lives in cross border terror activities? This question gets more credence keeping in view the growing concerns among civilians living in the bordering areas. “People have no other way left but to migrate down country in search of normal lives,” said Safdar Dawar, president of the Tribal Union of Journalists.
On the controversial Durand Line between Afghanistan and Pakistan, forces of Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO are engaged carrying operation against militants. The locals are not dying only in cross fire from one side. They are sandwiched between fighting forces from all directions. Sometimes, the acrimony between the allied states leads to increased tension on both sides of the border.
Senior journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai says, “Following the post 9/11 US invasion of Afghanistan, the issue of cross-border infiltration of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani-Taliban, has become a major irritant in the Pak-Afghan relations.” Since both sides have failed to stop Taliban affectively, they blame each other for aiding and abetting terrorism by not completely defeating Taliban.
Last year, over 200 militants penetrated 26 km into Pakistan to engage several security posts for over five hours in Arandu tehsil of Chitral district. Traditionally, though, the allied forces have been putting blame on Pakistan for supporting Haqqani group of Taliban, but this time the Pakistan hold NATO responsible for the cross border infiltration, which led to the killing of 26 border security forces.
Preventing cross-border raids in future needs solid steps to be taken by Kabul and Islamabad both. First, the allies—Pakistan and the US—need to remove trust deficit, which so far has provided oxygen to Taliban to make common peoples’ lives miserable and engage the security forces effectively on both sides of the divide.
Head of a Non-Governmental Organization Mediothek Afghanistan Mr. Hamidullah Zazai said that most often cross-border aggression occur because of misunderstanding. He believes that the best way for settling cross-border aggression is people-to-people contacts and business, frequent exchange programs of journalists and joint ventures of social workers in order to remove mistrust and develop mutual understanding between the people of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Maximum cooperation between US, Afghan and Pakistan demands resolution of the issue of cross-border incursions. For this, sharing Intelligence information among all stakeholders is important,” said Shamim Shahid, a senior Peshawar-based journalist. “Trust between the intelligence agencies CIA, KHAD and ISI should be established. All stakeholders should be given a chance to take part in dialogue with Taliban,” he added.
Fazlullah Wahedi, governor of Kunar province, admits that Pakistan is not behind incidents of cross border attack. However, he said it is hard to convince Afghans living in the bordering areas, who believe that some factions of Taliban enjoy Pakistan backing. “I believe it’s necessary that two sides get together to discuss the misunderstandings,” Wahedi said.
Expert on Afghan Affairs Rahimullah Yusufzai, however, wants the US to review its war on terror policy and cooperate with its allies particularly Pakistan. “Pakistan proposed building fence on the Pak Afghan border and establishing Biometric test system at Torkham and Chaman border to collect information about the anti-state elements, but it was rejected by the Afghan government,” Rahimullah added. Abdul Mueed Hashemi, a reporter of news agency in eastern of Afghanistan said that cross border attacks would benefit Taliban and Al-Qaeeda.
Some political observers believe that movement without visa restriction on the each side of Pak-Afghan border has increased militants’ infiltration. “As Pakistan is host to more than 3 million Afghans, there is no check on their activities. They can cross the border without requiring any visa formality. Political observers said that Taliban gets the maximum advantage of this liberty, who freely conducts terror activities on both sides of the divide,” he said.
Rahimullah also believes that the blame game would serve no constructive purpose, other than adding to the existing tension. “Until and unless Afghanistan and Pakistan trust each other, the cross border aggression will continue to haunt the security forces and people alike,” he said. Furthermore, Rahimullah holds the allied forces responsible for not stopping Taliban cross-border activities. He said, “Pakistan has the highest number of 900 check posts on its side, while on the other side the US forces in Afghanistan has set up only 100 border posts. More check-posts on both sides should be possibly established to control the Taliban and Al-Qaeeda penetration.