Accessibility links

Breaking News

Tensions With Neighbors Pose Challenges For Pakistani Foreign Policy

A view of the Pakistan-Afghan border at Chaman Islamabad sealed the crossing for the third day after clashes erupted between forces of the two countries on May 7.
A view of the Pakistan-Afghan border at Chaman Islamabad sealed the crossing for the third day after clashes erupted between forces of the two countries on May 7.

Recent cross-border attacks and disputes have strained Pakistan's ties with three of its four neighbors, which analysts say are challenging Islamabad's foreign policy strategy.

On May 8, Tehran warned Islamabad that it would hit bases inside Pakistan if the government does not confront Sunni militants who carry out cross-border attacks.

Ten Iranian border guards were killed and one abducted by militants last month in the country’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province, which borders Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan.

“We expect Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists, and shut down their bases,” said Major General Mohammad Baqeri. The head of the Iranian armed forces was quoted by state news agency IRNA.

Iran, which shares nearly 1,000 kilometers (over 600 miles) of border with Pakistan, alleges anti-state militants use Pakistani soil to plot terrorist attacks against Iran.

Pakistan's western and eastern neighbors, Afghanistan and India, have long accused Islamabad of harboring and supporting militant groups that carry out attacks across shared borders.

Border clashes between Pakistan and Afghanistan killed at least 13 people and wounded more than 80 others on May 5, when Pakistani authorities attempted to conduct a census in disputed villages.

Frequent skirmishes with Indian forces and militant infiltration across the Line of Control with India have kept ties strained between the two countries. New Delhi has accused Pakistan-based religious groups of supporting militancy in Indian Kashmir.

The United States has pressed Islamabad to do more to crack down on militant groups that operate from its soil. U.S. President Donald Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, called on Pakistani leaders during a trip to Kabul last month to go after militant groups on their soil “less selectively than they have in the past.”

Pakistan rejects the allegations of employing proxies from its soil, saying “Pakistan itself is a victim of state-sponsored terrorism.”

Pakistan's foreign office would not officially comment on the Iranian warning to launch attacks against terrorist hideouts in Pakistan, but Pakistani officials say Islamabad has good ties with Iran.

“Our relations with Iran are improving, not only economic ties but we are also moving toward a close cooperation on security issues,” Awais Ahmad Leghari, chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, told VOA.

Political And Economic Impact

But analysts say the failure of Pakistan's government to stop Pakistan-based militant groups from launching attacks against its neighbors is straining political and economic ties.

“Whatever is happening on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as on the borders with India and Iran, is in fact a major challenge for Pakistan's foreign policy,” said Rashid Ahmad, a professor of international studies at Punjab University.

“The situation is delicate and dangerous,” he said, adding that Islamabad's relations with its neighbors have worsened in the last four years.

“Pakistan is in an unenviable position now in that it faces major security challenges on three of its borders,” Michael Kugelman, a Pakistani affairs specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, told VOA.

A Common Theme

Though “the roots of these challenges are all very complex, there's one single theme that animates all of these border disputes: allegations of Pakistani support for militants on its soil that stage cross-border attacks," he said.

Analysts say the growing tensions not only strain political harmony but also hinder economic and commercial prospects in the region.

"If Pakistan's relations with its neighbors remain tense then its focus will be on security, not the economy,” Talat Masood, a defense analyst, told VOA.

Pakistani authorities in mid-February closed all border crossings with Afghanistan for more than a month after a string of suicide bombings in Pakistan. The protracted border closure cost businesses on both sides tens of millions of dollars and fueled bilateral tensions.

-- Written by Noor Zahid for the Voice Of America with contributions from VOA Urdu Service's Nasir Mahmood.