By Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, June 5 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan and Afghanistan are once again embroiled in a diplomatic row over recent cross-border attacks that occurred at a sensitive time when the Afghans would go to polls in the presidential runoff in just a few days.
The cross-border issue has threatened to affect the June 14 presidential runoff in Afghanistan and disrupt the peace and security in the country after the withdrawal of U.S.-led NATO troops within the year.
The United States and its Western allies view Pakistan's role as central to the peace and security in the region.
Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan on April 5 when Afghanistan held landmark presidential and provincial councils' elections in a relatively peaceful environment. Afghan analysts believe that the border closure by Pakistan has proved to be helpful in the conduct of the peaceful elections.
But on Wednesday, the Pakistan military aid that two of its soldiers were killed and three others injured in Bajaur tribal region when rockets fired from the Afghan side hit border posts.
The military said that it was the third incident of cross border attacks from Afghanistan since May 25.
On Sunday, the Pakistani military also said nearly 200 Pakistani Taliban fighters, who officials say now operate from the Afghan soil, launched attacks on Pakistani border posts in Bajaur tribal region, killing one soldier and injuring several others. In retaliation, Pakistani forces killed 16 militants, according to the army.
Afghan officials said that Pakistani rockets had also killed six people on the same day in eastern Kunar province. Spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry Zahir Azimi also said on Sunday that Pakistani helicopters crossed the border and flew over Kunar.
Despite the attacks, Islamabad has assured Kabul that it is ready to extend whatever help Afghanistan requires for it to hold the presidential runoff peacefully. "We will take every security measure including closing the border to help in the smooth and peaceful election process in Afghanistan,"Pakistan's top security and foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz told Xinhua in Islamabad this week.
Pakistan army chief, General Raheel Sharif has also assured top Afghan military leaders of his country's cooperation in peaceful polls when he travelled to Kabul last week for a trilateral meeting with Afghan and NATO commanders.
The two countries have diplomatic channels and bilateral forums to address each other's concerns as their mistrust, escalations along the border and the on-going public accusations could further worsen security situation in both countries.
Kabul opted to involve the United States in its bilateral problem with Islamabad as the Afghan Foreign Ministry on Monday sought Washington's help against the alleged Pakistan's "rocket attacks and airstrikes in Dangam district of Kunar province."
In a letter to the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said"The U.S. is bound to help Kabul to counter external threats under a strategic partnership agreement," that the two countries signed in 2012.
But U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham made it clear in Kabul on Tuesday that his country would remain neutral in the Pakistan-Afghan bilateral disputes. He advised the Afghan government to resolve border disputes with Pakistan through diplomatic channels.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have nearly 2,500 kilometers common border and Pakistan's cooperation for peaceful Afghan elections is considered very important as its control over the border regions would help stop the militants from entering Afghanistan to disrupt the June 14 polls.
The unchecked cross-border movement of the Taliban and other militants groups has been mainly responsible for the tensions. The two countries and thousands of U.S.-led NATO troops are equally responsible to stop the militants from illegal cross-border movement. However, they could not effectively deal with the problem.
The two uneasy neighbors have suffered a lot as a result of violent extremism since the United States and its western allies invaded Afghanistan in late 2001.
As the NATO is now devising its exit strategy, Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to resolve their disputes peacefully and to cooperate for a peaceful Afghanistan.
Both countries will suffer more if fighting is intensified in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal. As Pakistan's role is still viewed as very critical to encourage the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiation table, Afghanistan will have to bridge the trust gap with Pakistan for future cooperation.