ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN— Afghan forces say they are ready to retaliate against Pakistan for cross-border shelling along the country's northeastern border. Analysts in both countries are extremely concerned about what the situation means for the future of the region.
Afghanistan Defense Minister General Bismillah Mohammadi said that if diplomacy fails to stop Pakistan’s alleged shelling of Afghan soil, his forces are ready to react accordingly.
“Afghan forces,” he said, “are ready to sacrifice their lives and properties to defend their homeland,” said Mohammadi.
Trouble at Durand Line
The general was speaking to a gathering of elders in the border district of Goshta. According to local officials, Afghan residents were being asked by Pakistani border forces to leave their homes along the disputed border known as the Durand Line.
Mohammadi’s statements were echoed by Afghan Interior Minister Mujtaba Patang and taken one step further by the Nangarhar province's Governor Gul Agha Sherzai.
“We have decided by ourselves: if someone fires on us, we will return fire,” said Sherzai.
Pakistan has denied it is shelling Afghanistan. Islamabad has said Pakistani military forces have launched several offensives inside its border against militants, however, who then have escaped into Afghanistan.
The Durand Line border, established in 1893 by India’s then-colonial ruler Britain, is one of many contentious issues between Islamabad and Kabul.
Afghan military expert and former deputy interior minister General Abdul Hadi Khalid said that as long as international forces are in Afghanistan, he doubts the border dispute will erupt into a conflict.
“If Afghan forces, especially border forces, react against the attacks, I think it does not mean the two countries fall into military conflict. But at least it is a response to the interference of Pakistan,” said Khalid.
Once the coalition combat forces leave, Khalid said, Islamabad would likely continue its support of Afghan insurgents, but would change its tactics. Both U.S. and Afghan officials say militants who attack international forces inside Afghanistan take refuge in Pakistan.
Flip sides of coin
Pakistani analyst and retired Brigadier General Mehmood Shah countered that militants attacking and killing Pakistani soldiers and civilians are given a safe haven in Afghanistan. Shah denied accusations of intentional cross-border shelling.
“It is all propaganda,” he said.
Afghanistan raised the issue of cross-border shelling at the United Nations Security council last week, saying the attacks have killed dozens of Afghans, mostly civilians.