ISLAMABAD - Renewing the commitments on putting in collective efforts to net the runaway militants taking refuge across the respective sides of the Pak-Afghan border, the Pakistan and United States military commands are said to have reiterated to strengthen cooperation on this count.
The maiden official interaction between US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General Lloyd J Austin and Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif largely saw discussion on the issue of runway militants involved in waging the cross-border attacks, security officials said on Wednesday.
This is CENCTOM chief’s first visit to Pakistan since Raheel Sharif assumed the COAS charge in November last year. General Lloyd Austin visited the General Headquarters (GHQ) and Joint Staff Headquarters (JSHQ) to hold separate meetings with the army chief and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JSCSC) General Rashad Mahmood, besides meeting Defence Secretary Lieutenant General (r) Asif Yasin Malik.
A couple of military statements on Wednesday meetings between the Pak-US army commanders said, matters related to regional security situation with “special emphasis on Afghanistan, and bilateral cooperation between the two militaries,” were discussed.
As Pakistan’s military braces for an expected targeted crackdown against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and its allied offshoots in North Waziristan Agency and other parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), the issue of the TTP militants fleeing to the other side of the border makes a thorny area to step onto.
“This is a complex situation because militants always have a convenient option to skip the military action (as they) take refuge at the other side of the border,” Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Lieutenant General (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch said Thursday. To tackle this situation, he said, the formulation of a workable joint military strategy between Pakistan Army, ISAF and Afghan National Army is required.
“One option, a far-fetched one though, is border-fencing. But it is going to be a very difficult, costly and long-term project, implementable only if all the three sides agree to secure the border. Something needs to be done on immediate basis to stop cross-border terrorism that can only be dealt with by means of mutual cooperation,” he told this correspondent.
The security insiders, while sharing pertinent details of the meet-up between the COAS and CENCOM chief, said, the issue of border infiltration in the north-western region dominated the meeting’s agenda. “The troublemakers often cross our side of the border and challenge Pakistan’s security forces from across the border and vice versa. This needs to be stopped through mutual coordination,” they said.
A number of high-valued TTP commanders including Fazlullah are said to have taken refuge in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Fazlullah was previously operating from Swat before he escaped to Afghanistan after the security forces launched a military operation in Swat and Malakand Division in 2009.
Last December, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) had reportedly facilitated the TTP commander Latif Mehsud’s entry into Afghanistan in an alleged bid to use him for sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan before he was detained by the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force).
Under the previous Pakistan military command led by the then army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, a border coordination mechanism was in place that envisaged interactions between Pakistan Army and ISAF at Border Coordination Centres (BCCs) level. With the change of command at Pakistan’s military, these border coordination procedures need to be renewed, the sources believed. The border coordination procedures were last reviewed when the three sides had met at the GHQ in January 2013.
“While there is a functional mechanism to oversee the BCCs functioning from the platform of Border Coordination Committee, the field contacts across the border need to be streamlined and augmented at the field formation level between Pakistan Army and ISAF,” the officials stated.
The conduct of this year’s Tripartite Commission’s (TPC) and Border Coordination Committee meet-up between the army commanders from Pakistan, Afghanistan and ISAF was also discussed during the said meeting. The specified timeline in this regard would reportedly be framed in consultation with the ANA command.