Afghan-Pak border fencing has wide-ranging ramifications

An important by-product of the War on Terror

The 2,600-kilometer-long border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has remained one of the most porous, destabilized and instable borders in the region. The US War on Terror, and Pakistan’s decision to be a frontline ally, has further destabilized the line between these two states. It is also the main sources of the blame game between Kabul and Islamabad. On the one hand, the Afghan government has blamed Pakistan for supporting Taliban and other militants from across the border; on the other, Pakistan has alleged that major terror outfits, especially Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have been operating from Afghan territory– specifically in the aftermath of the military operation by Pakistan Army in 2014 in along the border region.

The area has another serious issue linked to it, which is the admitting it as a border of both countries, especially on the part of Kabul. The mutual border was set by British in 1893, declaring it the Durand Line. After Pakistan’s independence in 1947, and end of British rule in sub-continent, the Afghan government has claimed that the British-set border is now null-and-void, and it is Afghanistan’s territory. Meanwhile, Islamabad has maintained it as the border between two states.

The issue has been in limelight since 2017, when Pakistan announced to build a fence along the border. During his visit to the region three years ago, Pakistan COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said: “The new border measure would be in the interest of both countries.” Right after the announcement by Pakistan, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said that it was unaware of such a project, declaring, “Building fences or any construction is not acceptable for us and we won’t allow anyone to do it.”

Under the project, the Pakistan Army has built two mesh fences going parallel, couple of feet apart, topped with coils of razor wire between them. The fence runs through rugged terrain and snow-covered, treacherous mountains, where the elevation goes up to as high as 4,000 meters. Despite the difficult terrain, the Pakistan Army has continued this $500 million mega project.

In a statement, Pakistan Army Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) told media in March 2020 that: “84% work on the fence has been completed.” As per reports, the military is planning to complete the whole project in the next few months. Along the fence, Pakistan has also built 1,000 forts to keep a constant surveillance on the border. Experts say this ‘Hard Card’ policy is completely opposite to Pakistan’s ‘Strategic Depth Policy’ regarding Afghanistan. The policy coined by military dictator General Zia saw Pakistan’s deep involvement in the neighbouring country. However, it seems that the Pakistan military has shunned the policy and is working to secure its border.

The total impact of this wall is yet to be seen, but Pakistan military believes that it has helped in reducing the rate of terrorism in the country. Meanwhile, some experts and Pushtoon leaders believe that it will hugely impact the social and trade life of people living along the border region 

According to Islamabad, the fence has already showed its significant impact as terrorism has decreased to a large extent. Last year, there were 82 terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as compared to 352 in 2014. However, as per one military official: “You can’t do everything with a fence. People will still come through. They look like the local population, and they live among them.”

Furthermore, some analysts believe that the fence would not make much difference because the militants on both sides have their routes to cross the border.

One of the major impacts of this border fence would be social. There are thousands of tribal families who have been living on both sides and crossing the border freely for their business, trade and family relations.

According to Director of Research of South Asia Democratic Forum, Siegfrid O. Wolf, “The border fencing affects the interests of Pushtoon, who live on both sides of Durand Line. The impact of such fencing on the daily lives and livelihood of these groups with strengthen current feeling of marginalization.” He believes that this fence will lead to a fresh cycle of frustration, leading to more violence in the frontier instead of achieving the proclaimed security.

Zahid Shinwari, a former chairman of the chamber of commerce for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said that it is a huge change, because earlier people on both sides used to move freely. “We actually didn’t consider the Afghanistan side as some other country, like traveling to Europe or the Arab countries.”

Meanwhile, Michael Kugelman, senior Research Associate at Stimson Centre believes that the fencing will be never completed. “Given how unforgiving much of the border terrain is, there is no way the entire border will be fenced.”

The total impact of this wall is yet to be seen, but Pakistan military believes that it has helped in reducing the rate of terrorism in the country. Meanwhile, some experts and Pushtoon leaders believe that it will hugely impact the social and trade life of people living along the border region.

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