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Durand Line: Bone of contention

Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif alleged that the cross-border attacks continued and warned that Pakistan would not tolerate any more such incidents on its soil.

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A girl is seen at a refugee camp in Islamabad, Pakistan on June 20, 2023. (Xinhua/Ahmad Kamal)

On May 14, 2024, at least 12 terrorists and one Army soldier were killed while five other Security Forces (SF) personnel sustained injuries when terrorists from Afghanistan in their attempt to infiltrate inside Pakistan attacked Pakistani checkpoints in the Teri Mangal area, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in the Kurram District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The attack, launched with heavy weapons, targeted security installations within a 10 kilometres radius.

On May 14, 2024, two border posts of the Bajaur Scouts came under rocket fire from militants inside Afghanistan, in the Bajaur District of KP. Pakistani Forces retaliated to the attack.There were, however, no reports of any losses.

On May 13, 2024, two militants were killed and an unverified number of other militants were injured when Pakistani forces foiled attempt by terrorists from Afghanistan to infiltrate into Pakistan in the Kaga Pass area, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in the Mamund tehsil (revenue unit) of Bajaur District.

On April 17, 2024, seven terrorists were killed while trying to infiltrate in the Spinkai area of Ghulam Khan Tehsil (revenue unit), along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, in the North Waziristan District of KP. “The infiltrators were surrounded, effectively engaged and after an intense fire exchange, all seven terriorists were sent to hell. A large quantity of weapons, ammunition and explosives was also recovered,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. The terrorists were identified as affiliates of the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group. An unnamed ‘spokesman’ of the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group confirmed that seven militants affiliated with its Jaish-ul-Umari suicide squad were killed, and also claimed casualties from the other side without giving numbers.

On March 9, 2024, two terrorists were killed and another three sustained injuries during an exchange of fire with SFs along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in North Waziristan District, when a group of five terrorists tried to infiltrate. “After an intense fire exchange, two terrorists — Hazrat Umer and Rehman Niaz — were also sent to hell, while three other terrorists got injured,” said an ISPR press release.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), seven violent attacks by militants from across the border (including the six mentioned above), resulting in 24 deaths (23 terrorists and one SF trooper) inside Pakistan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan-border, have been reported in the current year (data till May 19, 2024). During the corresponding period of 2023, three such incidents, resulting in eight deaths (all SF personnel) and one trooper injured, were reported. In the remaining part of 2023, another six such incidents were reported, resulting in 27 fatalities (18 terrorists and nine SF personnel) and 50 persons injured (40 terrorists and 10 SF personnel). Seventeen such incidents, resulting in 40 deaths (31 SF personnel, seven civilians and two terrorists) were reported in 2022. There were 12 such incidents, resulting in 19 deaths (16 SF personnel and three militants) were reported in 2021; seven such incidents in 2020, resulting in 11 fatalities (10 SF personnel and one militant); and another seven in 2019, with 22 fatalities (20 SF personnel and two militants).

Meanwhile, on May 16, 2024, tension escalated in the Danday – Pattan Kharlachi area, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in Kurram District, as heavy cross border firing took place in the area. “There were heavy arms and ammunition used from both sides,” an unnamed Pakistani security official from the area disclosed, adding, “However there was no loss of life reported on the Pakistani side.” The Taliban Government in Afghanistan also did not comment on casualties on the Afghan side.

Earlier, on May 11, 2024, at least four Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants were killed and a few others were injured in an aerial strike by Pakistani forces at an unspecified location inside Afghanistan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, adjacent to the Waziristan District of KP. An unnamed senior TTP affiliate confirmed the attack and declared, “We have dispatched a team to identify the exact location, killed militants and their affiliations, and determine the exact casualty count. We await their report.”

Prior to that, on March 18, 2024, Pakistan carried out “intelligence-based anti-terrorist operations” inside the border regions of Afghanistan, and killed eight people. A press release from Pakistan’s Foreign Office said the prime targets of the operation conducted in the morning were terrorists belonging to the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, adding that the outfit, along with the TTP, was responsible for multiple terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, resulting in “deaths of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials.”

In response to the Pakistani attack, the Afghan Interim Government carried out multiple retaliatory attacks on security installations along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the Parachinar area of Kurram District in KP, in which one Army captain was killed and two Army personnel sustained injuries. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying that they had responded to the Pakistani attacks and targeted Pakistani military centres with heavy weapons. The statement declared, “Once again, Pakistani military and reconnaissance jets have entered Afghanistan’s territory and bombarded the homes of civilians in Barmal of Paktika and Spera of Khost.”

The volatility at the Af-Pak border has increased since the return of the Afghan Taliban to power in Kabul, belying Islamabad’s hope of improvement in the situation. Indeed, on May 10, 2024, Asif Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghanistan, expressed regret that TTP attacks in Pakistan emanating from Afghanistan had significantly increased since the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul. Durrani noted,

Earlier, it was hoped that with the arrival of the Taliban, the security situation on the Pak-Afghan border would improve but unfortunately the attacks emanating from Afghanistan had increased by 60 per cent in the last two years.

Earlier, on March 6, 2024, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Munir Akram, responding to border incidents, stated that the Pakistani armed forces respond to “cross-border attacks by the TTP and its affiliates against the country’s border posts and installations… We would expect the UN to call on the Afghan interim government to prevent such cross-border attacks and infiltration by the TTP and other terrorists into Pakistani territory.”

On March 20, 2024, Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif alleged that the cross-border attacks continued and warned that Pakistan would not tolerate any more such incidents on its soil.

On the other hand, the Afghan Taliban has blamed Pakistan. On May 8, 2024, Enayatullah Khwarazmi, spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense, denying Pakistani claims that Afghanistan’s soil was being used by the TTP against Islamabad, claimed that occasionally the soil of Pakistan was being used against Afghanistan, and Islamic State elements entered Afghanistan from there. Khwarazmi added, “We have cases where ISIS [Islamic State] extremists have entered Afghanistan from Pakistan and are using Pakistani soil against our land. Pakistan must answer for this.”

The conflict over the Durand Line appears irreducible, as no regime in Afghanistan has ever accepted its legitimacy, even as Pakistan continues to assert irrevocable sovereignty over all territories up to the Line. As the Taliban regime entrenches itself further in Afghanistan, the friction along the Durand Line can only escalate.

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Counter-terrorism Expert on Pakistan at Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) in New Delhi

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