Baber Ali Bhatti
THE invisible line that bisects thousands of Pashtun tribal people’s dusty villages and demarcates the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier is being transformed into fenced-wall divide. The fence will run down the middle of “divided villages”. Pakistan, worried by Afghan interventionists, has set off to building a fence to avert militants crossing the 2,500 km porous frontier along the Durand line drawn up by the British in 1893.
Seven such villages have been spotted around the Chaman district. This district provides the most convenient point for border-crossing into Pakistan’s south-western province of Baluchistan. Other divided villages exist further north in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The authorities in Baluchistan are now working on shifting Pakistani citizens residing in the divided villages to the Pakistan’s side of the fence. In support of this wall being termed as border wall, Col. Muhammad Usman, Commander of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps paramilitary force in Chaman maintained that “(A border wall) was there in Germany, it is in Mexico. It is all over the world – why not in Afghanistan and Pakistan?” “These tribal people have to understand that this is Pakistan and that place is Afghanistan.” He further added “Trump is doing as per requirements of America; we are doing as per requirements of Pakistan,”
Previously Pakistan attempted to build fence a decade ago which resulted in failure. Therefore, skepticism about the fence abounds. Many doubt whether it is possible to secure such a lengthy border.
Although the appeal of erecting tangible border barriers diminished after the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, yet in recent years, several elected and chosen populist leaders have backed the building of walls to curtail movement of foreigners, notably US President Donald Trump, who planned a wall along the entire border with Mexico. Recently, Hungary also decided and fenced the border with Serbia to prevent the flux of Syrian refugees and other Muslim migrants from entering Europe as Hungary acts as a gateway to the Eastern Europe.
Afghanistan seems unable to digest the construction of a wall all along the border. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan were already tense and boiled over in two divided villages when Afghan border troops clashed with the Frontier Corps in May 2017 which took more than 10 lives. Meanwhile, Kabul and Islamabad continued to accuse each other for sheltering militants and providing safe havens to Islamist groups that carry out cross-border attacks. Pakistan’s military planned to complete the construction of chain-linked and barbed-wire topped fence by December 2018 across the South Waziristan portion. Durand line fencing is imperative to preserve peace in tribal areas of Pakistan and it would equally benefit the region. To curb the menace of terrorism, this is the tangible development which provides the impetus to anti-terrorism efforts.
Unfortunately, Pakistan could not secure due acknowledgment for its efforts in so-called ‘war on terror’ which only mitigated the US-led global pressure of ‘do more’. Decision of Durand line fencing seems to have rationale on part of Pakistan to diminish the notion of safe havens in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA).
Last month during a tour of South Asia, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also called on leaders to join in eradicating fighters that seek safe haven across Durand line. Ergo, it has become regional need stemmed out from Pak-Afghan border for successful furtherance of ‘war on terror’.
On the other hand, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s Administration has frequently denounced and threatened armed confrontation regarding the construction across the Pak-Afghan border. Afghanistan is still stuck with anti-Durand line notion. Apparently, border fortification and its utility is being misconstrued by Afghanistan. Border fencing is not only instrumental in curtailing cross-border movement of terrorists but also to prevent smuggling of drugs, weapons and other goods.
The UN estimates that Afghanistan’s opium poppy production has grown by 700 tons to 4,800 tons in the decade ended 2016. The border barrier is also expected to reduce the drug trade across the border. The UN reported that about 40 percent of the opium produced in Afghanistan is transited through Pakistan.
No exact timeline has been given for the completion of Duran line fencing. Since it has been initiated, the rapid work is in progress and it is expected to be completed soon. Seemingly, it is a fruitful strategy devised by Pakistan. However, it is yet to be seen whether it may bear any fruit or not.
— The writer is associated with Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.