Posts Tagged ‘sanctuaries for militants’

The Fence Driving a Wedge Between Pakistan and Afghanistan

November 2, 2017

Bloomberg

By Ismail Dilawar  and Kamran Haider

  • Border smuggling dwarves official trading between neighbors
  • Pakistan has only fenced 43 kilometers of large pourous border

On the upper deck of the Hamza Fort border check-point in Pakistan’s South Waziristan, Major General Nauman Zakaria points to a 12-foot high fence just yards away — the latest initiative the military says will stem insurgent attacks across a more than 1,000 mile disputed border with Afghanistan.

“There won’t be an inch of international border that shall not remain under our observation,” said Zakaria, who has served in counter-insurgency operations in restive border regions of south and north Waziristan.

At an estimated cost of more than $532 million, Pakistan has started fencing the 2,344-kilometer (1,456 miles) border with war-torn Afghanistan, the latest measure that’s driving a wedge between the fractious neighbors who have accused each other of harboring insurgents launching cross-border attacks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has condemned Pakistan for instigating an “undeclared war of aggression” against his nation. While only 43 kilometers has so far been fenced since May, Ghani’s administration has repeatedly denounced and threatened armed confrontation over its construction across the disputed Durand Line, which divided the largely ethnic Pashtun communities in the region during British colonial rule.

Despite the objections, Pakistan is proceeding with its plan as Islamabad faces increased U.S. pressure to act against terrorists. President Donald Trump in August strongly denounced the nation’s alleged duplicity. He said the nuclear-armed Islamic Republic continues to harbor militant groups, such as the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, which have attacked American-backed forces in Afghanistan.

After visiting Islamabad during a tour of South Asia last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was concerned terror groups are undermining political stability in Pakistan and called on leaders there to join in eradicating fighters that seek safe haven within its borders.

Feasibility Questioned

Pakistan’s military expects to complete construction of the chain-linked and barbed-wire topped fence across the South Waziristan portion by December 2018. No timeline has been given for completion of the entire length of the border and there are questions over whether the plan is logistically feasible along the porous and often mountainous terrain.

There are 235 crossing points, some frequently used by militants and drug traffickers, of which 18 can be accessed by vehicles, according to a report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network research group last month.

A soldier stands by a new border fence in Pakistan’s South Waziristan.

Photographer: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban are used to moving with ease between the two countries in the often lawless border lands and are usually waved through by Pakistan security forces, according to the AAN, citing conversations with multiple current and former Taliban fighters, doctors and Afghans living in the region. Pakistan’s military has long denied supporting militant groups, including the Taliban.

While there has been some tightening of security since, the AAN said more than 2,000 Taliban commanders traveled to the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta in July 2015 to witness Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s ascension to the group’s leadership, before his death last year when he was killed in Pakistan by a U.S. drone strike.

“It was like a free highway,” Asad Munir, a retired brigadier who served in Waziristan and other border regions, said about one of the crossing points in Birmal. Militants won’t sit idle and will find alternative routes to sneak across the fenced border, he said.

Officials from Afghanistan’s foreign ministry didn’t respond to calls seeking comment, though in April the ministry’s spokesman, Ahmad Shekib Mostaghni, said “any type of unilateral actions” along the Durand Line will be “ineffective, impractical and impossible” without Afghanistan’s agreement. The country will use its security forces to stop the fencing if diplomacy fails, he said.

Nafees Zakaria, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry, said in a text message that the border fortification was being misconstrued by Afghanistan and is “instrumental in curtailing cross-border movement of terrorists and other undesired elements, smuggling of drugs, weapons and other goods.”

Opiate Trade

The fencing may reduce rampant smuggling which is valued at $3 billion by the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce & Industry — more than double the size of official trade between the two nations. Pakistan’s central bank recorded the bilateral trade at $1.2 billion in the financial year ended June.

The barrier is also aimed at reducing the drug trade across the border, which fund the Taliban’s operations in Afghanistan. About 40 percent of the opiates produced in the war-torn country are used in and transit through Pakistan, according to the United Nation’s. The UN estimates that Afghanistan’s opium poppy production grew by 700 tons to 4,800 tons in the decade ended 2016.

“Pakistan is one of the biggest transit routes for the smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan,” said Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, a retired colonel who is a member of Pakistan’s Senate committee on narcotics control. Pakistan’s anti-narcotics force “is trying its best to control it, but lacks power to keep the whole border sealed.”

— With assistance by Eltaf Najafizada

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-31/the-fence-driving-a-wedge-between-pakistan-and-afghanistan

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Joint military operation out of question, Pakistan will tell Tillerson — Does China’s Money Run Pakistan? Or The ISI?

October 22, 2017

By Amir Khan

Published: October 22, 2017
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to arrive in Islamabad on his maiden visit later this month. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to arrive in Islamabad on his maiden visit later this month. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

KARACHI: Pakistani policymakers have put together their agenda for talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who will arrive in Islamabad on his maiden visit later this month to enlist “Pakistan’s help for American effort to reach a peaceful solution in Afghanistan”.

Tillerson’s trip comes amid an uptick in Taliban violence in Afghanistan where US-led coalition forces have been battling to quell an increasingly bloody insurgency since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.

President Donald Trump’s top foreign policy aide would be told that Pakistan is willing to further strengthen the intelligence information sharing mechanism with the US in consonance with its national security, according to the agenda shared with Daily Express.

Pakistan offered US joint operation against Haqqanis: Khawaja Asif

“He [Tillerson] will be told that only Pakistani security forces will conduct counterterrorism operations on its soil – and that a joint operation with American or Afghan forces is out of question,” a source said.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, who recently toured the US, said in a television interview that Pakistan has offered the United States a joint operation against terrorists on its soil. However, he later clarified that he never said Pakistan could allow foreign boots on ground.

According to sources, Pakistani officials have prioritised the issues to be taken up with Tillerson which include the recent strain in Pak-US ties; President Trump’s new Afghan strategy; Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process; and Pakistan’s reservations on India’s role in Afghanistan, etc.

Army says ‘joint operation’ on Pakistan’s soil out of question

Top government functionaries would also tell President Trump’s aide that the American policy of pushing Pakistan to ‘do more’ must end as no other country has done as much as Pakistan has in the global war against terrorism. “It would also be conveyed to Tillerson that Pakistan wants to promote relationship with the US on the basis of sovereign equality,” a second source told Daily Express.

The Pakistani side, especially the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) would stress the need for intelligence sharing in the fight against terrorists. The Americans would be asked to share actionable intelligence on terrorists on Pakistan’s soil, and Pakistani forces would take action against them.

US and Afghan officials allege that the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban faction responsible for some the most deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, maintains safe havens inside Pakistan – an allegation Islamabad vehemently denies.

‘Seven JuA militants killed in NATO, Afghan forces raid’

Sources said that Pakistani officials would also ask Tillerson to impress upon the administration of President Ashraf Ghani to dismantle the sanctuaries of terrorists who are using the Afghan soil as a launching pad for mounting attacks inside Pakistan. Though Kabul denies any sanctuaries of Pakistani terrorists on its soil, but Omar Khalid Khorasani, the chief of TTP-Jamaatul Ahrar, was killed in a US drone strike in eastern Afghan province of Paktia earlier this month.

Pakistan would also called for revitalising and reenergising the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) for finding a political solution to the insurgency in Afghanistan, sources said. The quartet, which is made up of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States, met on October 16 in Oman after a long hiatus in an effort to resurrect the moribund Afghan peace process.

President Trump’s Afghan strategy envisages a greater role for Pakistan’s arch-rival India in Afghanistan. But Tillerson would be told that Islamabad could never reconcile to this idea because it is convinced that New Delhi wants to use the Afghan soil to destabilise Pakistan.

Pakistan, Afghanistan to conduct joint border ops under US supervision: Kabul

The multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also expected to come up for discussion during Tillerson’s visit. US Defence Secretary James Mattis said last week during a hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Committee that CPEC runs through a disputed territory — an allegation originally levelled by India to thwart the project.

The Pakistani side, according to sources, would make it clear to Tillerson that CPEC is very important project for the development of its economy and for regional connectivity and hence any attempt to make it controversial would not be acceptable.

Sources said that Tillerson’s visit is very significant as it would clarify Trump’s policy and set course for future Islamabad-Washington relations.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/1538241/1-joint-military-operation-question-pakistan-will-tell-tillerson/

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Pakistan, Afghanistan in angry tangle over border fence to keep out militants

October 19, 2017

ANGOOR ADDA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan is betting that a pair of nine-foot chain-link fences topped with barbed wire will stop incursions by Islamist militants from Afghanistan, which opposes Islamabad’s plans for a barrier along the disputed frontier.

Pakistan plans to fence up most of the 2,500 km (1,500 mile) frontier despite Kabul’s protests that the barrier would divide families and friends along the Pashtun tribal belt straddling the colonial-era Durand Line drawn up by the British in 1893.

Pakistan’s military estimates that it will need about 56 billion rupees ($532 million) for the project, while there are also plans to build 750 border forts and employ high-tech surveillance systems to prevent militants crossing.

In the rolling hills of the Angoor Adda village in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), three rolls of barbed wire are sandwiched in the six-foot gap between the chain-link fences.

“(The fence) is a paradigm change. It is an epoch shift in the border control management,” said a Pakistani army officer in command of South Waziristan during a presentation to foreign media on Wednesday.

“There will not be an inch of international border (in South Waziristan) which shall not remain under our observation.”

Pakistan’s military has so far fenced off about 43 km of the frontier, starting with the most violence-prone areas in FATA, and is expected to recruit tens of thousands of new troops to man the border. It is not clear how long it will take to fence the entire boundary.

But Pakistan’s plans have also drawn criticism from across the border.

A soldier stands guard along the border fence at the Angoor Adda outpost on the border with Afghanistan in South Waziristan, Pakistan October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Gulab Mangal, governor of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, told Reuters the wall will create “more hatred and resentment” between two neighbors and will do neither country any good.

“The fence will definitely create a lot of trouble for the people along the border on both sides but no wall or fence can separate these tribes,” he said.

“I urge the tribes to stand against this action.”

Pakistan has blamed Pakistani Taliban militants it says are based on Afghan soil for a spate of attacks at home over the past year, urging Kabul to eradicate “sanctuaries” for militants.

Afghanistan, in turn, accuses Islamabad of sheltering the leadership of the Afghan Taliban militants who are battling the Western-backed government in Kabul.

Both countries deny aiding militants, but relations between the two have soured in recent years. In May, the tension rose when 10 people were killed in two border villages in Baluchistan region.

The clashes occurred in so-called “divided villages”, where the Durand Line goes through the heart of the community, and where residents are now bracing for the fence to split their villages in two.

Pakistan’s previous attempts to build a fence failed about a decade ago and many doubt whether its possible to secure such a lengthy border.

But Pakistani army officials are undeterred by the scepticism and insist they will finish the job as the country’s security rests on this fence.

“By the time we are done, inshallah, we will be very sure of one thing: that nobody can cross this place,” said the Pakistani officer in charge of South Waziristan.

Reporting by Reuters TV in South Waziristan and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Writing by Drazen Jorgic