The number two man in the Pakistan Taliban – Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – has been captured trying to enter Afghanistan. The incident has reignited the serious issue of illegal border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The captured Taliban leader was Second-in-Command to Hakeemullah Mehdud, the present head of the TTP,
The President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai has lodged a strong protest with the government of Pakistan, regarding this arrest. Karzai stated that the incident clearly shows that the TTP is meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. He added that these illegal border crossings by the TTP amount to an undermining of the sovereignty of Afghanistan.
The senior Taliban commander is being kept at a secret location. According to reports, he once served as Hakeemullah Mehsud’s driver . It was because of his commitment to the cause of the TTP and personal loyalty to Hakeemullah Mehsud that he has been alleviated to this high post in the TTP’s hierarchy.
The issue of these illegal border crossings is a serious cause of concern for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only last month, Afghan security forces crossed over to the Pakistan side of the border at a small village in the Zhob district of the Balochistan province. After this unannounced crossing they allegedly started firing indiscriminately, killing six people including a woman. One of the dead was a member of Pakistan’s border security force. The spokesman for the Afghan security forces said that they were in hot pursuit of Taliban fighters, while the government of Pakistan termed it just a ruse, claiming the evidence showed that those shot were innocent, unarmed cattle farmers who had unknowingly strayed into Afghan territory in search for fodder for their cattle.
Another important aspect of these border crossings is that there is no clear demarcation of where Pakistan territory ends and Afghanistan territory begins. The crossings are a routine affair also because different branches of the same family live on both sides of the porous Pak-Afghan border.
The common people who are effected by this lawlessness have requested that both governments work out a plan in order to ensure that similar incidents are avoided. Some have even suggested that the whole Pak-Afghan border be sealed by wired fencing, which is neither financially feasible nor possible because of the rough terrain. Further, it can not in any way ensure that even if these measures are enforced the illegal border crossings would stop.
Both governments are trying very hard to come up with a mutually agreed solution to this problem, especially in view of the ISAF and NATO pull out by the end of 2014. If the governments of Afghanistan and of Pakistan are not able to find common ground concerning this issue, there is a very real possibility that after the allied forces are pulled out of Afghanistan these illegal border crossings would increase and so would the anti-state activities of the Afghan and the Pakistan Taliban.
As the cut off date is approaching there is a growing concern on both sides of the border that the Taliban would extract maximum benefit from these illegal border crossings and carry out their terrorist activities without any fear of reprisal from the toothless armies of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
An Op-ed written by: Iftikhar Tariq Khnzada