Tensions again rising between Afghanistan, Pakistan
The Institute for War & Peace Reporting
KABUL, Afghanistan — The continuing rocket attacks from Pakistan on eastern provinces of the country have cost two high-ranking officials their jobs and threaten to further destabilize the country’s fragile central government.
Early last month, Abdul Rahim Wardak, the country’s defense minister, was forced to step down after members of parliament called for his removal because of the ongoing shelling. Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who controls the Afghan National Police, was also forced to step down.
President Hamid Karzai said he would respect parliament’s views and remove the two ministers, but he asked the two to stay on until replacements could be found. Wardak refused the president’s request.
Meanwhile, there is growing anger in Kabul as rockets continue to fall on the eastern Kunar province. Senior Afghan officials say that the Pakistani military, rather than Taliban militants, is responsible for the attacks, claiming that only Islamabad has access to the type of munitions being used. Pakistan has denied the allegation. U.S. defense officials and members of the international security force continue to suspect that insurgent forces may be behind the rocket attacks.
Whoever is to blame, tempers are growing short among the country’s leaders.
Kabul previously threatened to go to the U.N. Security Council with its complaint against Pakistan if the bombardments, which began in May, do not stop.
Kunar provincial governor Fazlullah Wahedi said nearly 2,000 rockets had landed in recent months. In addition to killing numerous civilians, the attacks have displaced hundreds of families.
“The central government should address this issue seriously. The bombardment has made the public very anxious,” he said. Army Chief of Staff Sher Mohammad Karimi recently told the upper house of parliament that he is convinced the Pakistani military is responsible for the attacks. He said he believes the assault was intended to pressure Kabul into accepting the Durand Line, a poorly defined border dividing the two countries that was imposed by the British in 1893. Kabul does not recognize the line; Islamabad would like to see it formalized.
Lawmakers asked Karimi why the United States has not done more to address the situation.
“I don’t know why the Americans are ignoring this issue,” he responded. “Maybe the Americans are afraid because Pakistan has nuclear weapons, or maybe they are old friends and (America) doesn’t want to clash with them.”
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little said America was working closely with Afghanistan and Pakistan to try and limit violence along the border. “We have obviously been in constant contact with the Afghan government to work on these issues and we have put pressure on the enemy that operates along the border,” Little said at a recent conference.
Kunar province is mountainous and heavily forested, and borders Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas, over which Islamabad has limited control.
Officials in Islamabad have accused insurgents of staging attacks into Pakistan from Kunar. They say the Pakistani Taliban have found refuge in parts of eastern Afghanistan from which most Afghan and American forces have withdrawn in recent years.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on July 24 that “terrorists” had launched 15 attacks from Kunar and Nuristan provinces against Pakistani border posts and villages over the last year. The newspaper claimed that 105 soldiers and civilians had been killed in the attacks.
In a country rife with conspiracy theories, many see a dark purpose behind Washington’s reluctance to become directly involved in the dispute between the two countries.
They note that the United States and Pakistan in July signed a new agreement allowing the shipment of war materials from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Such shipments had been blocked since November 2011 following a U.S. airstrike inside Pakistan that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.
As part of the agreement, Washington agreed to release $1 billion in frozen military aid to Pakistan’s military.
Wahid Mozhda, an Afghan political analyst, said that even if Washington knew Islamabad was implicated in the shelling, American officials might be reluctant to address the situation given the importance of the transit route through Pakistan.
“The ... least expensive transit route for American troops here in the region goes through Pakistan. The U.S. needs Pakistan to achieve its long-term goals in the region,” Mozhda said. “I am confident that with the technology at their disposal, the Americans know where the rockets coming into Afghanistan are being fired from, but they don’t want to upset Pakistan.”