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Wages of the original sin

The incident of unprovoked and indiscriminate shelling by Afghan Taliban forces at the Chaman border on December 11, 2022, in which one security man was killed and 16 others injured, may be considered the wages of the original sin of meddling in the neighbouring country’s affairs. Although the incident in question evoked counter-firing by our forces, ISPR did not dilate on casualties on the Afghan side. That was left to Mr Zaid, the Kandahar Governor’s spokesman to ‘reveal’. He claimed one Afghan security man was killed and 13 injured, which included 10 soldiers and three civilians. Reports say the Afghan forces took umbrage when some Afghan citizens were refused entry into Pakistan because of incomplete documents. Another report has it that some people from the Afghan side tried to cut a fence near the border village of Lala Mohammad, which resulted in the closing of the Friendship Gate at Chaman. Although the border was reopened after half an hour, soon after the Afghan forces started firing at two border posts, prompting a response by Pakistani forces. The Afghan troops then escalated the exchange by using artillery and mortars.

Traditionally, despite Pakistan emerging as an independent state in 1947, the Afghan border had remained porous for as long as memory serves. Document checking, in fact any checking at all was the exception rather than the rule, given nomadic Powindas crossing the line seasonally and the tribes on either side being linked through family and other ties. All this changed, gradually but incrementally, during the Afghan wars following the Communist coup in that country in 1978, the subsequent Soviet invasion in 1979, and the rest, as they say, is history. Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the resistance Mujahideen soon fell into a civil war, ending only when the Afghan Taliban took over in 1996. Ousted by the US invasion following 9/11, the Afghan Taliban retreated into and found safe havens in Pakistani territory, from where they waged a guerrilla resistance until the occupiers tired and called it quits in 2021.

The Afghan Taliban had thus, with more than a little help from Pakistan’s security establishment, come back to power triumphant. Islamabad is faulted for harbouring the wishful thinking that the Taliban regime in Kabul would take action against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose forces had taken shelter with the Afghan Taliban on Afghan soil in the face of the irresistible pressure applied by Pakistani military offensives against them in the tribal areas. The TTP emerged as a result of the long Afghan wars, during which first the Afghan Mujahideen and later the Taliban lived cheek by jowl with local people in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Logistics and intelligence help from Pakistani tribesmen was exchanged for ideological indoctrination of the Pakistani Taliban, hence the TTP.

Pakistan had been resentful of Afghanistan’s refusal to accept the emergence of Pakistan as an independent successor state of the British Raj because of irredentist claims on Pakistani Pashtun territory. Such irredentist claims fly in the face of history, otherwise some people in Pakistan may have been tempted to claim suzerainty over Afghanistan, at least up to Kabul, which often remained within the acquisitions of Subcontinental empires that rose and fell in the past. Fortunately, no such claim ever saw the light of day on this side. Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan remained fraught because of such irredentism, despite the commonality of ethnicity and culture on either side of the new border. When Sardar Daoud overthrew the Afghan monarchy in 1973, this tipped the already strained Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship into a tailspin from which it never recovered. Daoud’s credentials as an ardent Pashtun nationalist had been well established in his earlier stint in power under the monarchy. His crackdown on Islamist militant organisations persuaded their leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masoud to flee to Pakistan, where they were taken under the wing of the ISI during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government, trained, equipped and infiltrated back into Afghanistan as the embryonic beginnings of the Mujahideen. The rest, at the risk of repeating oneself, is history.

The Afghan Taliban in 2001 had clearly indicated that they were not Pakistani satraps when they rejected Musharraf’s plea to surrender Osama bin Laden to the US after 9/11. Having helped them come back to power after a 20-year guerrilla resistance, Pakistan could be forgiven for naivete despite the 9/11 episode in thinking the Afghan Taliban would completely go along with Pakistan’s desire they act against the TTP. On the contrary, the Haqqani Network, to whom the TTP is close, persuaded Islamabad to hold negotiations with the TTP. Having learnt little from the futility of such negotiations with fanatical terrorists in the past, the Pakistani security establishment was misled and now finds the so-called ceasefire was little else but a ruse to allow the TTP time to regroup and infiltrate back into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the erstwhile tribal areas as well as adjoining settled areas, this has aroused a storm of anxiety amongst the local people, who do not want a repetition of the terrorist wave of the past. In some areas, local jirgas are threatening to take up arms in self-defence against the TTP if the state does not protect them.

The wages of the original sin are now upon us. It is time the security establishment woke up to the resurgent terrorist threat and conducted necessary operations against them to, this time, scotch the snake for good.

Rashed Rahman, "Wages of the original sin," Business recorder. 2022-12-13.
Keywords: Political sciences , Afghan security , Afghan forces , Pakistani military , Mr Zaid , Gulbuddin Hekmatyar , Ahmed Shah Masoud , Pakistan , Afghanistan , TTP

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