Syed Ali Zia Jaffery |
The Chaman-Spin Boldak Border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has become a heated battlefield since Friday’s violations by the Afghan forces. The cross-border firing, which was effectively responded by Pakistani forces, claimed 12 lives. Reinforcements of men and weaponry have ensured that fighting has stopped for now. However, the situation is tensed; families near the border have relocated; the Chaman crossing is closed for trade and the security forces are on a high alert. The deployment of armor and artillery on the Pakistani side indicates that the atmosphere is flaring up.
Ties between the two countries are far from cordial. Lately, recriminations, skirmishes, and mistrust have made the environment hostile.
It can be argued that the current escalation is owed to Afghanistan’s attempt to up the ante. With the Taliban becoming more brazen and taking over swathes of territory, the Afghan government is likely to pass the buck on Pakistan.
There have been visible efforts from Pakistan’s side to engage with Afghanistan at various levels. A military delegation headed by the Chief of General Staff (CGS) Lt Gen Bilal Akbar visited and discussed matters of military cooperation with the Afghan counterpart. This was followed by DG ISI Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar’s visit to Kabul. Apart from interactions between the military and intelligence leaderships, Pakistan tried to engage with them at the political and diplomatic levels. In a meeting with the Afghan National Security Adviser, the adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz tried to address Afghan complaints and offered cooperation in all matters. Besides, Pakistan actively took part in the Moscow-led initiative about finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan conundrum. These overtures were given despite the fact that Afghanistan’s soil is being used by forces inimical to Pakistan.
After all these efforts, though, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected the invitation to visit Pakistan. He called upon Pakistan to take actions against subversive forces. It can be argued that the current escalation is owed to Afghanistan’s attempt to up the ante. With the Taliban becoming more brazen and taking over swathes of territory, the Afghan government is likely to pass the buck on Pakistan.
How can Pakistan deter Afghanistan?
The response of the Pakistani forces to the Chaman incident was swift but an increase in caliber will have a better deterrent effect on an even otherwise beleaguered Afghan Army.
What options are at Pakistan’s disposal to compel and deter Afghanistan? How can the situation be improved between the two countries?
The border situation can be improved by making Afghanistan realize the dangers of resorting to violations. The conflict spectrum is different in the Western theater. The balance of forces and the absence of a nuclear umbrella allow Pakistan greater freedom in the application of military power against Afghanistan. Such liberty is not available against India because of increasing pressures on the escalation ladder with a nuclear ring attached to it.
Pakistan hence can inflict damage to Afghan forces on the border. The response of the Pakistani forces to the Chaman incident was swift but an increase in caliber will have a better deterrent effect on an even otherwise beleaguered Afghan Army. The beefing up of military presence on the border will give the right signals and will add to Pakistan’s deterrence drive at the tactical level.
Speaking to media on Sunday, Commander Southern Command Lt Gen Amir Riaz said that Pakistan had to inflict damage to the Afghan Army due to its mischief. He further said that as long as Afghanistan does not mend its behavior, the Chaman crossing would not be opened. An array of options must be used by Pakistan. The military tools will be able to deter the Afghan forces from carrying out cross-border attacks. Besides, they will compel Afghanistan to clamp down on elements that are responsible for attacks emanating from its soil against Pakistan.
An unstable Afghanistan is a bane for the entire region but more so for both the neighbors. Pakistan has to support an Afghan-led peace process in such a way that the future settlement does not pose a security challenge for Pakistan.
Pressure must be built on Kabul to take action against anti-Pakistan outfits which are thus far operating with impunity. Evidence backed up by confessions of Ehsanullah Ehsan, corroborate the RAW-NDS nexus that is facilitating these groups in acting against the state and the people of Pakistan. The matter has to be taken up with robust and coercive diplomacy. The nefarious alliance between Delhi and Kabul has to be taken up in international fora to include the UN.
The porous Afghan border poses a direct security threat to Pakistan. The deployment of forces will continue to remain Eastern-heavy, sealing, and fencing the border is hence well in order. Deterrence hinges on a credible military threat. Hence, showing and using force should be an important corollary in Pakistan’s strategy regarding Afghanistan.
Having said that, it is also essential for Pakistan to put its weight in the future dispensation in Afghanistan. Islamabad must continue to actively engage with the Afghan authorities, regional stakeholders, and the US to chalk out an end to the Afghan imbroglio. An unstable Afghanistan is a bane for the entire region but more so for both the neighbors. Pakistan has to support an Afghan-led peace process in such a way that the future settlement does not pose a security challenge for Pakistan.
However, with a polarized and tenuous political setup along with the resurgence of the Taliban, the situation to the west of Pakistan will be nothing but chaotic.
Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is a Research Analyst and Sub-Editor at Global Village Space (GVS). He frequently writes on defense and strategic affairs of South Asia. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.