Taliban’s warning on border fencing spells troubles for Pakistan government
Taliban-led government in Afghanistan has opposed Pakistan building fences on the disputed border between the two countries. It even has threatened a war if Islamabad persists in fencing the border. The latest developments are not just going to spoil the bilateral relations but also going to worsen Pakistan’s burgeoning problem of growing religious extremism at home. Any aggravation in the ongoing conflict between Kabul and Islamabad will strengthen the radical forces, putting the civilian government and democracy of Pakistan at the risk.
Notably, senior Pakistani political leaders including Prime Minister Imran Khan had joined the celebrations when the Taliban captured Kabul in August 2021. Khan had said that the Taliban had broken ‘the shackles of slavery’. Even Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) top brass had visited Kabul to negotiate power-sharing among different Taliban factions. However, now things are turning rather grim for Pakistan with the latest border controversy. The recent flashpoint cannot be seen as a normal one in the backdrop of the threats of war.
Pakistan has been erecting barbed-wire fences along the 2,640-km border, known as the Durand Line that was drawn by the British colonial officials, to stop the smuggling of arms, cross-border attacks from anti-Pakistan elements. Taliban opposed the fencing saying the Durand border divides the ancestral homelands of Pashtun tribes.
“Pakistan has no right to erect barbed wire along the Durand Line and separate the tribes on both sides of the line,” said a spokesperson of the Taliban government. Taliban wants free movement of the Pashtun population across the border. But it is not acceptable to Pakistan.
Pakistan has earmarked USD500 million to build the fence, of which a majority portion has already been built. The previous democratic government of Afghanistan too had objected to it. But Pakistan government did not listen and went ahead with the border fencing. Taliban however has warned Pakistan of serious consequences now. And it will not hesitate in doing what it says. Taliban security personnel even disrupted the fence building work in the eastern province of Nangarhar. They seized the spools of barbed wire. Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khwarzmi called it “inappropriate and against the law”. It is tough for Islamabad to ignore the Taliban as it did to the previous democratic government of Afghanistan. Upsetting the Taliban can lead to strong reactions from extremists in Pakistan.
The free movement across the border is certainly a thing of major concern for the Islamabad government, especially after 55 percent of people in Pakistan (65 percent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the majority of Pashtun population live), said they were happy with the Taliban rule. People in north-western Pakistan including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa feel alienated as the governance by the Islamabad government remained non-existent for decades.
After the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August last year, there was huge support extended by Pakistani people to the militant organisation. Maulana Fazl-Ur Rehman, a political opposition leader, used the Taliban’s victory to make calls for a revolution in Pakistan to oust the Khan government. Former ISI chief Asad Durrani, who played a crucial role in the formation of the Taliban in the 1990s, said people in Pakistan were happy after the return of the Taliban. He also raised suspicion if Pakistani people wanted to adopt the Taliban’s victorious model.
Taliban’s victory urged people to think of Islamic rule in Pakistan, said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pakistani Institute for Peace Studies. “With the Taliban taking over, anti-Pakistan terrorist groups will be emboldened, but it doesn’t end there. Extremist and nonviolent groups alike will think, ‘If Islamic rule could happen in Afghanistan, why can’t it happen here?’,” he said. According to United Nations, thousands of TTP fighters are present along the Afghanistan- Pakistan border. Knowing the potential threats from the TTP, Imran Khan has brokered a peace deal with the militant outfit. In such a scenario, the warning from the Taliban government can make Islamabad look feeble before militant organisations, thus weakening democratic government further.