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Remote Afghan Province Decries Pakistani Incursions

FILE: Afghan National Army soldiers fire a 120mm mortar round during an ongoing anti-Taliban operation in Dangam district near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the eastern Kunar Province.
FILE: Afghan National Army soldiers fire a 120mm mortar round during an ongoing anti-Taliban operation in Dangam district near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the eastern Kunar Province.

Officials, lawmakers, and community leaders in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar have accused neighboring Pakistan of incursions and cross-border attacks.

Haji Muhammad Safi, the head of Kunar’s provincial council, says persistent rocket attacks from Pakistan have forced remote border communities in the region to abandon their villages. Some of these, he says, were later turned into trenches and defensive positions by Pakistani forces.

Safi says Pakistan will eventually use these regions to help Afghan rebels use them as hideouts and safe havens.

“In the [bordering] district of Kunar Khas, Pakistani forces have moved into the Afghan territory for more than 500 meters and have established posts there,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “They are making similar incursions [in the neighboring] Sirkanay district. In some of these regions, they have moved heavy machinery to build new buildings.”

Safi accused Pakistani forces of rapidly clearing forests in the mountainous regions. He says that cross-border shelling and incursions have so far displaced nearly 200 families. “They told some of the villagers they could move to Pakistan and even offered them accommodation there,” he said.

Wilayat Khan, a tribal leader in Khas Kunar, says the constant Pakistani shelling aimed at their houses has forced them to flee.

“Luckily, no one was killed in the attacks, but our properties and livestock suffered,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Pakistan did this to force us out so their forces can move in.”

Kunar Police Chief Juma Gul Himat says Pakistan wants Afghan rebels to carve out sanctuaries in Khas Kunar, Sirkanay, and Dangam districts, which border Pakistan’s northwestern Mohmand and Bajaur tribal districts.

“Our neighbor Pakistan has always blatantly interfered in Afghan affairs,” he said. “The recent incursions and cross-border attacks are part of their strategy to facilitate some terrorist groups to carve out sanctuaries. If they succeed, this will imperil the security of the entire eastern region [in Afghanistan].”

Islamabad, however, rejects Kabul’s accusations and blames Afghanistan for sheltering remnants of the Pakistani Taliban in Kunar and Nangarhar. Pakistan closed its western border with Afghanistan after a wave of terrorist attacks killed scores of civilians and soldiers across Pakistan.

On March 25, Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited border areas in the Mohmand district agency to announce that a border fence will be constructed in Mohmand and Bajaur. Islamabad considers the two “high-threat zones” because of cross-border attacks from Kunar and neighboring Nangarhar province.

According to a Pakistani military statement, the country’s forces will deploy additional technical and air surveillance means to monitor the country’s border with Afghanistan.

“Efforts are at hand to evolve a bilateral border security mechanism with Afghan authorities. A better managed, secure, and peaceful border is in the mutual interest of both brotherly countries, who have given phenomenal sacrifices in [the] war against terrorism,” a March 25 statement by the Inter Services Public Relations quoted Bajwa as saying.

The two neighbors have longstanding acrimonious relations. During the past 15 years, they have accused each other of hosting Taliban and other insurgent groups responsible for violent insurgencies and frequent terrorist attacks.

Islamabad and Kabul, however, have so far failed to break this cycle of mutual blame and embark on meaningful antiterrorism cooperation.

On March 15, senior official from the two countries agreed to “a commitment to realistic and nondiscriminatory cooperation in the fight against terrorism,” according to the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

But disagreements over Pakistani plans to selectively fence their more than 2,500-kilometer-long porous border, called the Durand Line after a 19th-century British colonial diplomat, is already testing their resolve.

On March 27, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said the fencing is unlikely to help in fighting terrorism.

“The latest development on the other side of the [Durand] Line will not help the struggle against terrorism,” he told the Afghan cabinet on March 27. “Such a struggle requires sincere cooperation from the two countries.”

Rohullah Anwari is Radio Free Afghanistan’s correspondent in Kunar.