Bleak fate of civilians on both sides of Durand Line by Shah Zaman Khan / Abdul Mateen Sarfaraz

ISLAMABAD / KABUL: Eyes brimming with tears, 50-year-old Zakirullah Mamond of Sarakai, a small village in Bajaur Agency, uttered these poignant and disconcerting words, “Our lives do not serve any real cause other than to be part of collateral damage.”

On June 16 last year, militants attacked three villages of Sarakai, Mokha and Manro Jangal which are situated on the Durand Line, about 60 km west of Khar, the agency headquarters. In this attack Zakir lost his wife, son and sister. Brushing away tears he said, “I don’t care, whether it was Pakistan, Afghanistan or Nato who fired the rocket. All I know is that it destroyed my loving family.”

Locals are caught up between fighting forces from all directions.

The latest of the series of cross-border attacks took place in Upper Dir, in which 13 soldiers on patrol were killed.

Mamond is not alone in sharing this bleak fate. As per reports, 703 innocent people have been killed in different acts of terror during the first quarter of 2012. Of this tally, most casualties occurred in incidents of cross-border aggression, including firing and drone strikes.

Forces of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nato are engaged in operations against militants on the Durand Line. The locals are not only being killed in crossfire from one side, but are sandwiched between the fighting forces from all directions.

In phases of heightened acrimony between the states, militancy is seen to increase proportionally. Senior journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai says, “The issue of cross-border infiltration of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban has become a major irritant in the Pak-Afghan relations.” Since both sides have failed to stop the Taliban effectively, they are constantly busy in a blame game against each other.

The prevention of cross-border raids necessitates that solid steps be taken by both Kabul and Islamabad. First, the allies—Pakistan and the US—need to remove trust deficit and engage the security forces effectively on both sides of the divide.

“Trust between the intelligence agencies of each state, CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), KHAD (Khidmate Ettelat-e Dawlati) and ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) should be established. All stakeholders should be given a chance to take part in dialogue with Taliban,” a senior Peshawar-based journalist Shamim Shahid said.

Governor of Kunar province (Afghanistan) Fazlullah Wahidi admits that Pakistan is not behind incidents of cross-border attacks. However, he said it is hard to convince Afghans living in the border areas who believe that some factions of Taliban enjoy Pakistan backing.

Yousafzai believes that the blame game would serve no constructive purpose, other than to exacerbate the existing tension. “Until and unless Afghanistan and Pakistan trust each other, the cross-border aggression will continue to haunt the security forces and people alike,” he said. Furthermore, Yousafzai holds the allied forces responsible for abetting Taliban’s cross-border activities. He said, “Pakistan has the highest number of check posts on its side, while the US forces in Afghanistan have set up only a 100 border posts. More check posts on both sides should be established to check militant penetration.”

Some political observers also believe that movement without visa restriction on either side of the border has increased the infiltration.

The tear-brimmed gazes of many civilians are fixated on policy-makers, who are too detached from the locals to grasp how the violence is taxing innocent lives. It seems like many more civilians will suffer Mamond’s fate, before the higher-ups are finally prodded awake.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2012.


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