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South Asia: Border Clashes Reveal Rifts Between Pakistan, Afghanistan

Afghan National Army and police stand guard at the border with Pakistan (file photo) (epa) May 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan and Pakistani troops today clashed for a second consecutive day along their border, with heavy artillery barrages reported. Afghan officials say 41 Afghans have been killed or wounded in the clashes since May 13. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz spoke about the conflict today with Rahul Bedi, the South Asia correspondent for the London-based journal "Jane's Defense Weekly."

RFE/RL: There have been several clashes this month between Afghan government troops and Pakistani border guards along the frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Is this a dangerous escalation -- beyond the hostile diplomatic language -- that is manifesting itself in fighting between government forces?

The border region "is very much like the Wild West. The rule is the gun."

Rahul Bedi: What is actually happening along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is not very well known to a lot of people. I think the information that is coming in is scarce. There are very few firsthand accounts. Journalists are not allowed into the area. So a lot of the information that is filtering through is not very credible. But as far as the clashes between the Afghans and the Pakistani border guards are concerned, these have been a regular part and parcel of border policing. The border is not very well-defined. The Afghans do not acknowledge the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And there is a regular movement of people to and from the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies [of Pakistan], where even the writ of the Pakistani government does not run. So it is a complete no man's land. It is very much like the Wild West. The rule is the gun.

RFE/RL: These clashes appear to be concentrated near the southeastern part of Afghanistan, where Pakistani forces have been trying to erect a security fence. Afghanistan says that Pakistan is trying to seize Afghan territory by building this fence.

Bedi: This border is called the Durand Line. It was set up by the British at the end of the 19th century and it has never been acknowledged by the Afghans. The Pashtuns, which is the majority of the Afghan population, are the ones who straddle both sides of the divide. They are in Pakistan and they are in Afghanistan. And whilst the border is about 1,200 to 1,400 kilometers [long], Pakistan is trying to fence a symbolic 20 or 30 kilometers. And they are having problems doing it. Even though the fencing is continuing from the Pakistani side, it is just symbolism because the border is "unpoliceable." It is "unfenceable" because of the terrain. The porousness of the border is something that just cannot be stemmed. It's one of the priorities of General [and President Pervez] Musharraf, who really wants to resolve this border dispute with Afghanistan. But the Afghans are not at all keen because of the ethnic divide of the Pashtuns who are on both sides of the frontier.

RFE/RL: Afghanistan and Pakistan are supposed to be allies working together with the United States in the war on terror. And yet, rather than security forces working together against cross-border militants, we are seeing multiple clashes in which Afghan border guards are fighting Pakistani government troops. What does this say about relations between the two countries?

Bedi: The alliance between the Afghans and the Pakistanis and the Americans is individual. That is, the Afghans are aligned with the Americans, and the Americans are aligned with the Pakistanis. But the Pakistanis are not aligned with the Afghans because Pakistan is seeking a greater say in Afghan affairs. In fact, it has for the last 15 or 20 years been wanting a greater say in Afghan affairs. And, in fact, the Taliban was nurtured, raised, and installed by the Pakistani establishment. So as far as the alliance between Pakistan and Afghanistan is concerned, it does not exist. In fact, there is bitter rivalry between the two sides and bitter enmity between the two sides. Individually, they are linked to the Americans. But the Americans have not been able to broker any kind of an alliance between the two sides, despite both [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai and President Musharraf meeting in Washington a few months ago and agreeing to work together. That agreement has just not worked on the ground because there is far too much baggage of history and conflict that seems to be irresolvable. And this is one of the problems that the Americans and the NATO forces are going to face.

Afghanistan And Pakistan

Afghanistan And Pakistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad in October 2005 (epa)

ACROSS A DIFFICULT BORDER. The contested border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is some 2,500 kilometers long and runs through some of the most rugged, inhospitable territory on Earth. Controlling that border and preventing Taliban militants from using Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan is an essential part of the U.S.-led international coalition's strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan. Officials in Kabul have been pointing their fingers at Pakistan for some time, accusing Islamabad or intelligence services of turning a blind eye to cross-border terrorism targeting the Afghan central government. Many observers remain convinced that much of the former Taliban regime's leadership -- along with leaders of Al-Qaeda -- are operating in the lawless Afghan-Pakistani border region.... (more)


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