Hassam Ahmed Siddiqi
Pakistan shares a 2611 km long border with Afghanistan which is linked with its provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The border between the two states has remained open and vulnerable since 1947 till 2017 as people from both sides of the border crossed it frequently without any trouble. War on terror in Afghanistan proved out to be disastrous for Pakistan as the country had to host around three million Afghan refugees. In addition, the bordering areas of Pakistan became hub of terrorists, criminals and insurgents. Cross border terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal trade between two states became a perpetual phenomenon which seriously impacted the security situation of Pakistan. The idea of fencing Pak-Afghan border was initially presented by former President of Pakistan General (R) Pervez Musharraf in 2006 after Afghan Government accused that certain extremist groups of Pakistan enter Afghanistan to conduct acts of terrorism. Afghan Government was opposed to the idea. Though several meetings of Afghanistan, Pakistan and ISAF officials were held in 2007 for a joint project, however no agreement was reached and hence the issue remained unresolved.
Despite serious opposition of Afghanistan to fence the border, Pakistan Army initiated fencing of Pak-Afghan border on 27th April 2017 at the cost of $530 million. The cost includes gadgets and surveillance equipment on illegal movement across the border. As of November 2019, around 70% of the project was completed and the rest of it is expected to be completed in 2020. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, around 600kms has been completed out of a total 1,343kms planned to be fenced while in Balochistan around 650kms has already been fenced out of the total planned 1,268kms; and equipped with water, solar electricity and protection mines. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the longest area of border is connected with Chitral having a boundary length of 493 kms. Out of this 493 kms, around 471 km boundary line lies on mountains and glaciers. Similarly, around 39 km boundary connects with Lower Dir, around 50 kms with Bajaur, around 69 kms with Muhmand, around 111 kms with Khyber, around 191 kms with Kurram, around 183 km with North Waziristan and around 94 km boundary line connects with South Waziristan.
This entire border is being protected by 11 Corps of Pakistan Army. Fencing of border is being done in a way that nearly 3-meter-high chicken wire fences, with a 2-meter gap between each one, and topped with barbed wire is being installed across the border. It is important to mention that a major area of boundary line between Pakistan and Afghanistan lies in a rugged and mountainous terrain where it is impossible to install the fencing. Similarly, boundary line on some areas is on extreme height where it is not possible nor any need to fence as it is humanly impossible to cross the border reaching such height. A total of 443 forts are also being built alongside the border of which the construction of 221 forts has been completed while working on the remaining 222 forts is in progress. Of all these posts around 35 are in Malakand, 54 are in Bajaur, 58 are in Muhmand, 93 are in Khyber, 109 are in Kurram, 64 in North Waziristan while around 30 posts are built in South Waziristan. It is important to mention that the project does not only include fencing Pak-Afghan border, but all the necessary arrangements for its management that includes building forts, check posts, installations of Drones and CCTV cameras. Pakistan is putting in its complete and full-fledged efforts for the completion of the fencing project so that an already improved security situation of the country can be flawlessly and comprehensively secured that will lead towards trade and cross cultural exchanges of both the states through advanced and internationally accepted procedures.
Fenced Pak-Afghan border will highlight tremendous opportunities for people of Pakistan and Afghanistan in domain of mutually agreed political agreements, highly improved security situation after two decades of war in Afghanistan, prospects of boosting legal trade, highly reduced and possibly in later stages neglible cross border terrorism and extremism, reduced terrorist infiltration and militant groups camps on both sides of the border, halt in drug and human trafficking and illegal trade and very likely chances of peace and development in the region.Government of Pakistan and Afghanistan need to re-negotiate Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) that was earlier signed in 2010. The agreement needs to be re-negotiated with respect to current circumstances, while taking in to consideration viewpoint of all the relevant stakeholders concerned from both sides of the border. Pakistan has already equipped Torkham border with the latest technology while it intends to equip Ghulam Khan, Angoor Ada, Chaman and Nawan Paas crossing points with the modern technology as well.
Inter-agency cooperation and collaboration is a must for an effectively well managed Pak-Afghan border which has been lacking previously. Locals of tribal agencies need to be included in the security apparatus in all the relevant departments to help grow confidence across the newly merged seven districts. While peace and stability in Afghanistan can be expected as a result of recent developments, better coordination with the Afghan government can help both the states reach their maximum bilateral trade potential. Trust deficit between the Government of Pakistan and Afghanistan has been a major irritant in bilateral relations of both the states. While fencing of Pak-Afghan border will resolve major conflicting issues between them, pro-active foreign policy is the only way forward for both of them. Pakistan can help Afghanistan in its reconstruction, however promising bilateral relations between the two states are conditional to an all-inclusive Afghan government as well as peace and stability in the region.
—The writer works at Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), Islamabad.