Pakistan to build fence along disputed Afghan border

In this June 15, 2016 file photo, a Pakistani army soldier stands guard in Pakistani tribal area of Khyber, near Torkham border post between Pakistan and Afghanistan. —AP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan says it has started building a fence along the Afghan border in areas where it says militants have launched cross-border attacks, a move that could worsen tensions with Afghanistan, which has never accepted the colonial-era frontier. Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the head of Pakistan’s armed forces, announced the construction of fencing in “high threat zones” Saturday during a visit to tribal regions along the border, saying it was in the interest of both countries.
The two countries share a 2,400-kilometer internationally recognized border known as the Durand Line, which was drawn in the 19th century, when the British dominated South Asia. The Afghan government has never recognized the border, which runs through the Pashtun heartland, diluting the power of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group on both sides.

Najib Danish, the deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said authorities had not yet seen any signs of construction along the frontier but would move to prevent any such project. “Building fences or any construction is not acceptable for us and we won’t allow anyone to do it,” he said. Pakistan and Afghanistan have long accused each other of turning a blind eye to Islamic militants operating along the porous frontier, and Pakistan recently closed the border for more than a month Bajwa said Pakistan is trying to develop a bilateral border security mechanism with Afghanistan.

US air strike kills senior Qaeda leader
In related news, a senior Al-Qaeda commander linked to major attacks in Pakistan including the bombing of a luxury hotel and an assault on a cricket team has been killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan, Washington said Saturday. Qari Yasin, a member of the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan group (Pakistani Taleban), was killed on March 19 in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province, the Pentagon said. “The death of Qari Yasin is evidence that terrorists who defame Islam and deliberately target innocent people will not escape justice,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement.

Yasin, who went by several aliases including Ustad Aslam, was accused of plotting the September 20, 2008 bombing on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed dozens of people, including two US service members. He was also said to have been behind a 2009 attack on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore that killed six Pakistani police officers and two civilians, and wounded six members of the team.

According to official Pakistani ‘Most Wanted’ lists he was also behind failed attempts to kill former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003 and former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in 2004. The Pentagon described him as being a native of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan region, though Pakistani records said he hailed from the country’s populous Punjab province.

Security analyst Amir Rana said Yasin was the latest in a series of Pakistani militant fugitives to have been killed across the border in Afghanistan, including Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a former close associate of Mullah Omar, who died in a clash with Afghan security forces in January. “He was once a senior figure and one of the Pakistani Taleban’s few non-Pashtun leaders,” said Rana, but added that Yasin had fallen inactive in recent years after fleeing to Afghanistan.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have long accused each other of harboring militants who carry out attacks in each others’ countries. Taleban fighters on Thursday captured Afghanistan’s strategic southern district of Sangin, where US and British forces had suffered heavy casualties before it was handed over to Afghan personnel. The Taleban effectively control or contest 10 of 14 districts in Helmand, the deadliest province for British and US troops over the past decade, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency. – Agencies

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