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Pakistanís Broken Border

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
Updated January 29, 2007

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The frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan serves as the flash point for tensions between the two countries as Kabul grows increasingly critical of Islamabad's seeming inability to control cross-border raids by Islamic militants. The solution proposed by Pakistan last month to mine and fence the roughly 1,500-mile Durand line (VOA) did little to reassure Afghans, who have long disputed the boundary. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose criticism was echoed by Washington and the United Nations, said Islamabad should instead eliminate terrorist sanctuaries (BBC) within Pakistan rather than separate families who live in the border region. Pashtun tribal leaders on both sides of the boundary warn if Pakistan carries out the plan they will remove any barriers or mines (Pajhwok Afghan News).

Pakistan, under U.S. pressure to stop Taliban incursions into Afghanistan, has sought to place blame across the border. In a Washington Post interview, a Pakistani military spokesman said his country has made genuine attempts to control the border and that Afghanistan also plays a role in cross-border raids by insurgents: "If 25 percent of the problem lies on our side of the border, 75 percent of it lies on the Afghan side."

But even if its intentions are sincere, Pakistan's ability to contain militancy appears increasingly in question. In a new CFR.org podcast, Ambassador Dennis Kux, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, says the Pakistanis cannot stop “individuals going across what has long been an open border.” The government of President Pervez Musharraf has proven unable to halt terrorist activities in the semi-autonomous tribal areas in that region. Critics view the government's treaty with the North Waziristan tribal region as a concession to the Taliban and other militants active there rather than a victory for Islamabad. A briefing by the United States Institute of Peace looks at the gap between Pakistan's will and its ability to carry out anti-terrorist activities, saying Pakistan cannot meet the demands of Kabul and the international community because Musharraf lacks credibility.

The likely complicity of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in sheltering militants—and Musharraf's incapacity to stop the agency from doing so—serves as another obstacle to securing the border. Carlotta Gall, a New York Times journalist who was assaulted by ISI agents while covering the agency's support of an Islamic insurgency, offers this report on ISI's backing of Taliban incursions into Afghanistan. Her article appeared days after Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif, captured by Afghani agents near the border, said Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is hiding out (Guardian) in the Pakistani city of Quetta under the ISI's protection. Omar has remained elusive since fleeing the U.S.-led Afghanistan campaign in 2001. Islamabad denies harboring the Taliban or Omar, and claims the cleric is in Afghanistan heading the insurgency (Hindustan Times) against NATO-led forces.

Pakistan also has repeatedly rejected U.S. claims that it shelters al-Qaeda operatives. Islamabad's foreign ministry spokeswoman recently said, "In breaking the back of al-Qaeda, Pakistan has done more than any other country in the world." As if to punctuate the point, the Pakistani army claimed responsibility for a strike on a suspected al-Qaeda hideout near the Afghan border on January 16. The bombing, which killed eight alleged militants, coincided with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' recent visit to Kabul, where he expressed concern over the rise in the number of cross-border attacks (Bloomberg).

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