Our border management dilemmas


Iqbal Khan

THESE days border management with our neighbours is getting messier—virtually on a tenterhook, ready to unhinge on slightest pretext. It was never an efficient enterprise; historically these borders have only been notionally regulated. Shared common neglect or say, indifference and inefficiencies of years have gradually came to a pass. And with the addition of frequent occurrences of non-ignorable incidents of violence, the necessity of effective border regulation has become phenomenal and urgent. None of the effected countries has adequate resources to accomplish it single-handedly, hence border management remains, at best, patchy, letting undesired people and goods cross over with impunity. Recent incidents of violence triggering actions by Iranian outlaws and Afghan security forces speak of huge underlying malice which requires collective corrective effort to bring border management at par with accepted international norms. Though both crises are in their receding phases, yet an analysis is in order.
The phenomena is certainly not Pakistan specific, borderlands are often an unenviable places, administrative inertia, bilateral frictions, sovereignty issues and shady informal economies etc., make these spots attractive for petty criminals, traffickers and spoilers. Closure of borders is not a solution, it reflects failure. Essence of border management is letting desirable people and goods cross over, while blocking the crossing attempt by undesired people and goods. Near simultaneous situation on Pakistan’s border with Iran and Afghanistan and ensuing hypes, once again, brought forth the existence of this powerful fault-line. Moreover, sporadic tensions prop-up across our borders with China and India as well, this indicates ineptness of our diplomacy to amicably resolve problems with our neighbours. Pakistan’s image of safe heaven provider continues to stick internationally and these two recent happenings would reverse paddle the effort to dilute that unenviable impression.
On the heels of uncalled for violence by Afghan troopers resulting into loss of 50 innocent civilian lives, Iran hurled a threat to hit ‘terror safe havens’ in Pakistan. Major-General Mohammad Baqeri made the statement on May 08, roughly two weeks after 10 Iranian border guards were killed in clashes near border town Mirjaveh. A militant sectarian outfit Jaish ul-Adl (Army of Justice), fighting for independence in Iran’s Sistan-Balochestan province, claimed the responsibility. Prima facie, the landscape is rather ugly. With three countries blaming Pakistan using identical dictum—safe heaves; and two of these contemplating military strikes of one type or the other. By any standards, Pakistan’s image does not look good from the outside.
However, one needs to understand that Pakistan is equally a victim of terrorism as our neighbouring countries are. Afghan Chief Executive has recently conceded that TTP presence in Afghanistan is a reality. And financial and ideological trail of many gruesome incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan often points towards Iran. Indian accusations against Pakistan have a different background, tenor and purpose. It is part of overall zero-sum game between the two, which is mainly influenced and sustained by broader international geo-politics and Indian effort to divert international focus from Kashmiris’ rightful struggle.
The silver lining is that soon after each such incidents Iran and Afghanistan are forthcoming in resolving specific occurrences. Goggle survey of the two villages near Chaman crossings on Pakistan-Afghanistan border has been completed. And after the visit of Iranian foreign minister, Joint Border Commission has been tasked to take measures to avoid recurrence. Pakistan does not, supports terrorism nor it patronizes terrorists. While this perception is well home in Pakistan and amongst its friends, a substantial number of influential countries perceive Pakistan as a terrorist training and launching ground. Pakistan has not been able to dispel this impression, especially since 9/11. In this context, a moment of self-reflection is long overdue. We can no longer carry the snowballing baggage of blame for everyone else’s failure.
Pakistan needs to take a bold approach to post the blame were it rightfully belongs. Since the time Pakistan has taken a proactive path of exposing India atrocities in occupied Kashmir, international community is listening to it and counties and organizations are frequently coming forth to express their willingness to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Likewise, as a result of appropriate advocacy of CPEC, almost all regional countries as well as a number of other important counties, entities and individuals are falling upon each other to join and invest in CPEC related projects.
Timing of Iranian Generals remarks were intriguing, these came after the constitution of new commission for border management. General Mohammad Baqeri told Press TV on May 08 that Iran would deal with the terrorists themselves if Pakistan was unable to address the issue. He said: “We expect the Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists and shut down their bases … If the terrorist attacks continue, we will deal crushing blows to their safe havens and cells, wherever they are.” Baqeri added that Pakistani soil has “unfortunately” turned into a haven and training ground for “Saudi-hired terrorists, who enjoy the US endorsement”. Pakistan’s Foreign Office rightly summoned the Iranian ambassador HE Mehdi Honardoost over an ultimatum by the head of Iran’s armed forces. After the visit by Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and an understanding to enhance cooperation on the border issues, Iranian General’s diatribe was reflective of his erratic disposition. During the meeting with the Iranian ambassador, Foreign Office highlighted the necessity of improvement in bilateral relations between the two countries, and rightly urged Iran to refrain from making statements that could harm relations. Pakistan has assured Iran that it would deploy additional troops along its border and now it must carry through this undertaking. At the same time Iran needs to take stock of separatist tendencies within its territories and come up with political solution. And stop threatening Pakistan.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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