It is due to Chitral Attack that The bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has hit a new low. It is also due to concerns over repeated unchecked terrorist infiltration into Pakistan and attempts to construct a security post at the disputed land near the Torkham crossing point. These incidents have strained ties, with Pakistan urging Kabul to honor the commitments made in the 2020 Doha Peace Deal of not allowing is soil for launching cross border attacks.
On September 6, when Pakistan was celebrating defense day, reportedly 300 to 500 militants armed with heavy weaponry reportedly crossed into Pakistan’s remote northern district of Chitral from Afghanistan’s Nuristan and Kunar provinces. Pakistani security forces successfully repelled the cross-border attacks and killed 12 terrorists. Four soldiers of the Pak army also embraced Shahadat in the gun battle. Islamabad condemned the attacks and informed Kabul about the movements of armed attackers on the Afghan side, but no action was taken to stop them.
What makes this attack particularly concerning is that Chitral is known for its peaceful atmosphere and lack of local militant presence. Security analysts suggest that this attack, claimed by the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is part of their strategy to establish a physical foothold. Unlike regions like Waziristan or Khyber, where the TTP has a significant presence, Chitral’s relatively weak security presence provides the TTP with an opportunity to maintain a more extended physical presence, potentially expanding its influence into Gilgit Baltistan.
Furthermore, Chitral shares a border with the Wakhan Corridor, a strategically crucial area that connects China with Afghanistan and Central Asia. Instigating unrest in Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan, both of which play essential roles in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), raises concerns for China as well.
The Afghan Taliban’s response to these developments suggests that the TTP enjoys support from the interim government. It is implausible that the Afghan Taliban were unaware of the movement of 300 to 500 militants on their soil launching attacks on another country. There have also been reports of other militant groups targeting China and its interests participating in these attacks, indicating broader support for the TTP from the Afghan Taliban.
Reports indicate that the leadership and thousands of militants from the banned TTP and other Pakistani terrorist groups have been living in Afghanistan under the influence of the Afghan Taliban. The TTP has historically aligned itself with the Afghan Taliban, both fighting against U.S.-led NATO forces for the past two decades. Even the current TTP Chief, Mufti Noor Wali, has acknowledged in his book ‘Inqilab-e-Mahsood’ that the TTP was originally formed by the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda, with three TTP factions subsequently merging with Al-Qaeda.
While Pakistan has engaged in peace negotiations with Pakistani militants in Afghanistan, facilitated by the Afghan Taliban, these talks resulted in a ceasefire for several months but broke down in November 2022. Pakistan attempted peaceful resolutions but had limited success. The militants crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan resorted to violence, including attacks on mosques and security forces.
Torkham Border and Bilateral Trade
The Pak-Afghan border at Torkham remained shuttered for nearly nine days, causing severe disruptions to traders and transporters on both sides. The closure resulted from tensions but was ultimately resolved through negotiations between Taliban and Pakistani officials. This border closure inflicted substantial financial losses, estimated at $3 to $5 million daily for traders.
Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, Director of the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, highlighted the paradox of Pakistan keeping the Wagah border with India open despite conflicts along the Line of Control, Iran border despite using for smuggling while shutting down Torkham and even Chaman during Pakistan-Afghanistan tensions.
Sarhadi questioned potential expansion trade routes to Central Asia and Europe via the Afghan border when it faces repeated closures. The disruptions have drastically reduced bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which had once reached to $ 2.5 billion and aimed to reach $5 to $6 billion but has now dwindled to just a fraction of that due to these interruptions.
To restore stability and peaceful relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, both nations must establish a permanent mechanism to address their outstanding issues. The two countries share a long border and are interdependent in terms of people-to-people contacts and trade. Pakistan aims to access the Central Asian market, but this goal hinges on achieving peace with Afghanistan, which, in turn, relies on Pakistan for international trade due to its landlocked status.
Amid ongoing conflicts and tensions, it is crucial that sanity prevails and that direct diplomatic contacts between Islamabad and Kabul are established. Instability, war, and violence benefit no one and pose challenges for both sides. If the Afghan Taliban could engage in peace negotiations with the U.S.-led NATO, there should be a willingness to pursue similar dialogue with neighboring Pakistan.
A forward-looking dialogue should prioritize permanent peace in the region and transform it into an economic hub instead of a hub for militancy. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan face common issues, including political stability and economic challenges that can only be addressed through peaceful coexistence.
The Afghan Taliban must earnestly implement the peace agreement and seek international recognition for its government. Kabul, on the other hand, should prioritize peace over conflicts and violence, ensuring that Afghanistan poses no threat to regional or global peace.
International pressure is mounting on Kabul to address security issues as reports suggest that international terrorist groups are returning to Afghanistan. The presence of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) and the banned TTP poses significant threats to regional peace. Even a joined collaboration to be designed to counter these regional threats. Mere denial of these facts will not suffice; concrete actions are needed to demonstrate the Taliban’s commitment to addressing these issues.
While Pakistan and Afghanistan face complex challenges and tensions, there is also an opportunity for both nations to work towards lasting peace and stability. By addressing these issues through diplomatic means and prioritizing the well-being of their people, they can pave the way for a brighter future for the region.