Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, January 18th, 2018

A Renewed Focus on Af-Pak Border Regions

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A Renewed Focus on Af-Pak Border Regions

The border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been increasingly destabilized as result of activities by various militant groups of which the Taliban and the Haqqani network are the most prominent. The chaos and turmoil emanating from the Af-Pak border regions have thus far destabilized both Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. On the Afghan side of the border, Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network fighters, not to mention many other self-styled smaller militant outfits, have extended their deadly tentacles to almost all of Afghanistan, with these border regions basing their main headquarters of command and control.

For example, during the attacks on Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, the attackers, who belonged to the Haqqani group, were in contact on cell phones with their handlers based across the border. The phone conversations were intercepted and recorded by the security agencies and released through the media.

That episode clearly showed how the border regions act as the main headquarters of the ongoing militancy and insurgency in Afghanistan. Money and cash to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and originating in these border areas routinely finds its way into the team houses of Taliban in various villages, towns and cities of Afghanistan.

Overall command and control and organizational direction for the Taliban and Haqqani network as well as other militant groups come from these border regions. These regions are, by and large, the epicenter and fountainhead of militancy, terrorism and insurgency in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As repeatedly and rightly pointed out by Afghan political leadership, including President Karzai, for years, these border regions must be included in any plan of action in order to bring militancy and insurgency under control on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. A renewed focus on these border areas and working towards neutralizing the militant headquarters in those regions would quickly have the effect of de-escalating the insurgency and violence inside Afghanistan and would prevent the security situation from worsening further. The border areas hold the key.

Therefore, it is in the genuine interest of both Afghanistan and Pakistan as two neighboring countries and governments to try to address this common challenge. The continued activities of militant groups in these regions and that with almost total impunity, is a major irritant in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. If the two countries are genuinely interested in resolving these series of decades-old challenges, the road ahead is clear. Challenges can indeed be overcome with the right strategies and decisions.

The situation in the border regions has been turning increasingly complicated in recent months. For a while, it has been clear that certain members of Pakistan-based militant groups such as the Tahrik-i Taliban Pakistan have taken shelter on the Afghan side of the border. After a series of military offensives carried out by the Pakistani military in the tribal areas, some prominent militant figures had sneaked across the border. Reportedly, Maulana Fazlullah of Swat valley, a prominent figure within the TTP, and his entourage, is one such group.

In the past, such groups have indeed mounted attacks inside Pakistan from time to time. This means that the actual situation in the border regions, when assessed away from the sensational cue and cry raised by the media, is very complex with many militant groups fighting against many targets including the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In such a situation, both governments indeed have fallen victim to this mad frenzy of militancy and insurgency. In such a situation, it is only natural to have both these governments appealing to each other to prevent militant activity on their soil against the other country. The government of Pakistan has recently made renewed appeals to the government of Afghanistan to take action against Maulana Fazlullah and his group. Afghanistan has for long been doing the same.

In a recent move, the government of Pakistan and its military have opted for going the path of talks and negotiations with Pakistani militant groups including the TTP that are based in its border regions. There is a consensus within both military and civilian leadership in Pakistan that after years of sustained military pressure on these militant groups, talks and negotiations should also be given a serious chance.

The Pakistani military has wrapped up the last of its military operations in the border regions and is contemplating launching a campaign of dialogue in which the militant groups will be encouraged to commit themselves to truce with the government. Whether such a strategy is the best to follow and whether or not that will prove to be the solution to the problem can not be known yet. What is clear is that stability and calm on the Pakistani side of the border is in Afghanistan’s best interest.

The Afghan National Army, in conjunction with the international coalition, has launched a major operation in the eastern border regions where the Haqqani network and sections of Taliban have had a free hand for a long time. Taking the fight against these militant groups to the eastern sector along the borders has long been overdue.

With the Taliban relatively weakened in the south and southwest, the eastern regions lacked sufficient focus of Afghan security forces and the international coalition. Now, it is hoped that bringing sustained military action on insurgent safe havens on the Afghan soil and close to the border areas can bring down the soaring graph of insurgency inside Afghanistan.

The U.S., with the help of the Pakistani government, has already started negotiations with the Haqqanis. A combination of military operations in the eastern sector against the Haqqanis and ongoing negotiations with them might indeed turn out to significantly reduce the soaring rate of insurgency in these regions at least for for some time.

What is important, however, is durable stability and that would not come easy. As far as groups such as the Haqqanis are concerned, for bringing about durable peace, what is essential is disarming and weakening of this network and its main figures. Anything short of that goal would mean that groups such as the Haqqanis will create instability and chaos once again in pursuit of their own criminal agendas.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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