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As US troops begin drawdown in Afghanistan, violence threatens Pakistan border

Pakistan has responded to US demands to rout militants from the mountainous border with Afghanistan. Now Pakistan's gains are now being undermined by Taliban attacks.

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Border guards

On the Afghan side of the border, border patrol police wearing Western-style fatigues (as opposed to the shalwar kameez outfits of their Pakistani counterparts) invited the Monitor across the border for tea.

Unlike their Pakistani counterparts across the border, or the militants who periodically raid Pakistan, the Afghans do not possess heavy weapons such as mortars or rockets. Their access to basic supplies, like water, is also limited, and they are taken to their guard posts via helicopter, as the risk of ambush by Taliban on the road is too great.

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A burnt-out pickup truck, destroyed by an IED not more than 100 meters within the Afghan border, bears witness to the risks of road travel for the Afghan forces.

Common enemies

“The Taliban call us 'kafirs' [unbelievers] on their FM radio station, and say we deserve death,” says Faiz Jan, a member of the Afghan Border Patrol police, underscoring that, while Pakistan and Afghanistan border police trade insults, they in fact share a common enemy. The radio broadcasts also declare the Pakistan Army as well as the leaders of the Tribal Laskhars apostates of Islam, according to Army officials and residents.

Their common enemy, according to the senior military official, is the Taliban, specifically infamous Maulvi Faqir Mohammad and his lieutenants Jaan Wali Sheena and Qari Saqib.

Faqir Mohammad, a senior Pakistani Taliban leader who briefly laid claim to the leadership, was reported killed in an airstrike in the Swat Valley in January 2010 but has since resurfaced to resume his terror campaign.

Officials say many of the same personnel who comprised the Swat Taliban fled across the border and are responsible for the current spate of raids.

Slow progress

Despite the raids, “the security situation is generally better these days. Two years ago, the government’s rule extended only as far as the political agent’s offices [the government of Pakistan's representative in the area],” says Muhammad Jamil, a senior government official who has spent some 25 years working in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas.

The administration has been able to rebuild about 90 damaged schools that the Taliban had destroyed and have money from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) – through the form of the FATA Sustainable Development Program Funds ($1 million was spent from July to December 2010). That money has been put to use effectively, says Usman Khalid Khan, another senior official in charge of development. But where the UAE advertises its infrastructure projects, schools, and clinics rebuilt with American money remain anonymous.

The Salarzai tribe has helped maintain some peace in Bajaur after major operations ceased some six months ago. Though he is perturbed by the cross-border violence, Pakistan should look within its own borders before blaming outsiders, Khan says. “Until religious extremism in this society is addressed, and politicians keep talking about deals with the Taliban, militancy will never fully disappear.”

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