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Afghanistan And Pakistan Have A Nasty Border Feud

October 31, 2019

Via Wikimedia Commons.

An intense exchange of mortars and rockets between Afghan and Pakistani soldiers took place in a border crossing this week. The October 28 incident is the latest clash between the two countries over the so-called “Durand Line” whose length stretches from 2,200 until 2,600 kilometers, much of it over rugged terrain. To this day, the contours of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are undecided despite numerous attempts at creating formal boundaries. The latest confrontation happened in a valley of Kunar Province in northeast Afghanistan. Kunar Province is next to Nangarhar Province, which is a safe haven for ISIS fighters.

The exact circumstances that triggered the violence on Monday haven’t come to light although raw footage from the battle is still circulating online. The exchange of fire took place in a valley where Afghan troops fired RPG-7 rockets at a border post across the river below them. News from Afghanistan later claimed a sudden bombardment left three women injured. News from Pakistan never acknowledged this, claiming a half dozen soldiers and an elderly woman was hurt on their side of the border. An official statement from Afghanistan’s foreign ministry blamed Pakistan’s military for the events in Kunar Province and accused it of “rocket firing” on three areas in the “Shultan Disctrict.” No loss of life from either side was revealed by the foreign ministry.

Via Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Durand Line, whose legality is rejected by Afghanistan, is a vestige from when the British Raj dominated South Asia. It’s named after the diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand, whose entire career was spent pursuing the British Empire’s goals in Central Asia, and the “line” credited to him is an artifice that reflected the extent of British influence over Afghanistan and Persia–two countries Imperial Russia wanted under its own sphere of influence. By 1893 a confusing border was agreed on by Sir Durand and the Afghan ruler Abdur Rahman Khan. This has served as Afghanistan’s international border ever since although its effectiveness is questionable, with uncontrolled migration and smuggling commonplace.

Small battles over peaks and remote villages now follow a pattern; each year, Afghan and Pakistani troops fight without interruption and no third parties have ever tried to dissuade them from armed conflict. Far from a boon for Islamabad, successive governments have tried to impose order on specific routes in the shared border, to little avail. Some parts are fortified with outposts and elaborate barriers yet expanding these to other features often antagonized the Afghans. While the balance of military strength between the neighbors seems lopsided on paper the reality on the ground suggests the token units involved whenever a skirmish erupts are evenly matched. Kabul might struggle to defeat terrorism but it has enough regular troops and paramilitaries at hand for sudden emergencies along its border.

Judging by its total manpower, Afghanistan’s military is the strongest in Central Asia although it’s equipped for an internal security role. Its best soldiers are a corps-sized formation of US-supplied and trained special forces. Pakistan is an intimidating adversary, however, being a nuclear-armed state with one of the largest armies in the world supplied with advanced weaponry by China and complemented by a seasoned and battle-hardened air force. Pakistan’s dreaded spy agency, the ISI, have a long record of organizing proxies and fomenting unrest to fight the nation’s enemies.

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