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Durand Line simmers as Pakistan and Taliban resort to artillery attacks

Exchange of heavy firing and artillery shelling ongoing between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban at border between Kunar province of Afghanistan and Mohmand, Bajaur districts of Pakistan. (Photo: Twitter)

The Taliban and the Pakistani army are trying to play down confrontations along the Durand line, but cross-border artillery exchanges between the two so-called blood brothers has jolted the region. Sharing video clips, senior Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary said in his post on Twitter: “The Pakistani military is shelling and artillery attacks targeting hamlets in Ganjgal, Sarkano, Kunar, on the Durand Line. Taliban soldiers retaliated and fired artillery against Pakistani forces, clashes continued for 30 minutes in the afternoon.” 

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According to Bilal, the incident took place on Friday afternoon and  firing from both sides continued for at least two hours. 

“Clashes have resumed between Taliban and Pakistani military forces. Taliban firing artillery from Sarkano and Dangam districts, both on the Durrand line. Taliban governor for Kunar instructed Taliban soldiers to fire against Pakistani forces. Villagers, tribal elders tell me,” said Bilal. 

The fighting is bad news for Pakistan as lurking in the shadows is Pashtun nationalism–a demand for a homeland for ethnic Pashtuns who reside on either side of the Durand line. 

In another video clip, a local Afghan Taliban commander is claiming that parts of Mohmand district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have been captured by Afghan Taliban from Pakistan after the fence along the border, which the Durand line defines, was cut.

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Many pro- Taliban social media accounts also verified intense fighting between Pakistani forces and Taliban forces at multiple locations along Durand Line. Fighting was apparently most intense in Kunar in Afghanistan and Bajaur in Pakistan.  

According to PTI, the defence minister of the Taliban regime and son of the founder of the Taliban, Mullah Yaqoob was in the area to diffuse the situation.

Defence Ministries of the two sides later held talks on the issue. 

The dispute has been quietly and calmly settled,” PTI quoted Mullah Yaqoob as saying. 

The tension across was building up since the last few days and on Sunday, the Taliban fighters tore down a section of the razor wire fence along the Durand line. The Afghan Taliban intelligence chief of the Eastern Nangarhar province, Bashir was seen in a video clip warning Pakistani soldiers on the Durand Line. If you violate the boundary line, be ready for war with us. We love fighting you more than the Jews. We still have a lot of work to do.”

In retaliation, the Pakistani forces launched artillery fire after the incident of removal of wire fencing in the Gushta district of Nangarhar province. Pakistan has nearly completed its barbed wire on the entire Durand Line that stretches approximately 2600-km between Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Also Read : Taliban tears down barbed fence on Durand Line amid growing friction with Pakistan

The firing incidents once again underline that the Durand Line remains a contentious matter for the Taliban, despite its close ties to Islamabad.

There are reports that the banned terror organisation has also joined the Taliban fighters in removing the fence and attacking Pakistani soldiers. 

This is the same area of the Afghan and Pakistan border where the Pakistani army had targeted the deputy chief of TTP by a drone attack last week. But the missiles fired by the unmanned floater failed to explode. Now, to take revenge, the TTP has intensified its attacks on the Pakistani forces. 

No Afghan government, including the present Taliban regime, has ever recognized the legitimacy of the Durand Line, which runs through mountainous terrain and remains largely unpoliced. In September, this was asserted by the chief spokesperson of the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid said in an interview last week that “the Afghans are unhappy and oppose the fencing. The fencing has separated people and divided families.” 

But the Pakistani army sources told Dawn news that the Taliban’s opposition to the fencing project “does not matter.” 

“Fence is a reality. Nearly 90 percent of it has been installed. Not agreeing with it is not an option,” the source told the daily.