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International Armed Conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan

Conflict type: International armed conflict

Since October 2021, Pakistan and Afghanistan have engaged in border clashes.

For an international armed conflict to exist, there must have been a resort to armed force involving at least two states. Under an expansive view, there is an international armed conflict when states carry out military operations directed against non-state armed groups in the territory of another state without the latter’s consent, regardless of whether or not the territorial state responds with armed force or whether there are actual clashes between the two states’ armed forces. Albeit controversial, the RULAC project adopts this position. Unlike for non-international armed conflicts, there is no requirement for the violence to reach a certain threshold for international armed conflicts. For further information see the Classification section.

Pakistan has been involved in a number of parallel NIACs for years. The conflicts in Pakistan have also spilled over into Afghanistan. Amongst others, splinter groups of the Pakistani Taliban allegedly joined ranks with the Afghan Taliban and use Pakistani territory as a safe haven from which to participate in the non-international armed conflict in Afghanistan. D. Nelson, A. Yusufzai, ‘Pakistan Taliban Splits ‘Over War With Islamabad’, The Telegraph, 5 September 2014. In August 2021, following the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban took control over the country and became the new government. In October 2021, border skirmishes took place between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the Taliban government accused Pakistan to implement restriction on transit of goods and people between the two countries. Tensions between the two countries persisted over the following months, as Pakistani Taliban launched attacks against Pakistani state forces from Afghanistan. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Pakistan. On 16 April 2022, Pakistan launched an airstrike against Afghanistan, which resulted in civilian casualties in Kunar and Khost provinces. Furthermore, on 8 and 22 August 2022 Pakistani and Afghan troops clashed across the border. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Pakistan. On 11 December 2022, Taliban border forces launched a cross-border attack against Pakistan, using mortars and artillery into the neighboring country. On 15 December, Taliban forces fire attacked Pakistani military personnel in Chaman, across the border, killing and injuring a number of civilians. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Pakistan.

Both countries are parties to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and to the 1977 Additional Protocol I applicable to international armed conflicts. Furthermore, they are bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to international armed conflicts. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law. In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict, but it is controversial whether it also applies to extra-territorial airstrikes.

Last updated: Thursday 7th December 2023