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Fencing the Durand Line

By Juma Khan Sufi

Under normal circumstances, fencing border with a normal neighbour is not a friendly act.  India has fenced its border from Kashmir all along to the Runn of Kutch in the Indian Ocean, because it has illegally occupied Kashmir at the dent of force violating the partition plan of June 1947 and the subsequent repeated resolutions of Security Council of United Nations, the occupation which Pakistan does not recognize and challenges.

Pakistan has no problem with its neighbour to the west – Afghanistan – with which Pakistan has multiple ties of shared geography, religion, language, ethnicity and social and economic inter-dependency.  But sadly Afghanistan has never adhered to the principles of good neighbourliness and by not taking these ties seriously since the very establishment of Pakistan in 1947 because of its irredentist claim over its territory.  No other country in the world endorses Afghan claim because international law does not allow such unilateral assertions.  Or to put it bluntly, Afghanistan does not recognize the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Pakistan but always lays claims on one-sided concessions which are not its due. As a rule neighbours should recognize each other territorial integrity and national sovereignty within existing borders, if they are serious about true friendship. The borders within the European Union are very soft, but the borders are unquestionable and indisputable among the member countries.

Despite all these factors Pakistan never entertained any ill-will towards Afghanistan.  It has tolerated Afghan interference in its tribal area (former FATA) whereby Afghanistan harboured and nurtured its agents with the name of Pakhtunistani maliks by paying them regular allowances and off and on inciting them against Pakistan and the developmental works carried out by it there right from 1947 onwards and dubbing former FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) free Pakhtunistan and other Pakhtun populated areas in Pakistan as occupied Pakhtunistan. Over all this period Pakistan has always offered olive branch to its western neighbour to forego illegitimate claim and instead join hands with it in con-federal or even in a unification arrangements instead of laying claim over Pakistani Pakhtuns who do not care for these  unfounded Afghan assertions.

Giving free hand to Afghan refugees and harboring millions of them for decades with all the facilities available to them which in some cases were not provided even to its own citizens, Pakistan put at stake its own survival and integrity for the cause of liberating Afghanistan from Soviet occupation.  No doubt the world supported it, yet without Pakistan’s participation the objective would have remained elusive. The advent of Taliban on Afghan landscape in 1996 was an internal phenomenon born of Afghan milieu due to inability of Afghan Mujahideen groups to establish a viable government after the fall of Najeebullah’s regime in 1992, which was wrongly attributed to have been Pakistan-sponsored.

The 9/11 changed the international scenario and Taliban Afghanistan was declared as the centre of terrorism.  It was again Pakistan without whose help the world could not get rid of Taliban rule.  The strategy adopted by world community led by United States was flawed from the outset during and after the Bonn Conference in 2002.  However, to put the record straight it was again Pakistan which has been paying the price for the all-out support it provided to NATO and its allies and created more ferocious indigenous Taliban carrying out terrorism within Pakistan, killing more than seventy thousands civilians and security forces personnel and the killings continues in one way or another, while damaging its infrastructure worth hundreds of millions dollars.

Scapegoating foreign powers for all their ills is a favourite pastime to Afghans and their historiography is testimony to it.  By and large Afghanistan is tribal-based society suspicious of foreigners each and every time.  After the creation of Pakistan, all their historic hatred and xenophobia have turned against Pakistan even long before there were any current difficulties of civil wars.  But the sad part of the whole story is that sometimes international community under US aegis also join them because of their failed strategy and ignorance of Afghan history and mindset.  It is déjà vu as during Soviet occupation, they did the same to Soviets by drawing them to their factional feuds of ruling Khalqis versus Parchamis.

Consistently blaming Pakistan for Taliban activities inside Afghanistan and, at the same time, not allowing return of millions of Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan back to their country that also constitute recruiting ground for Taliban, there was no alternative except to fence one of the world most porous border with the meagre resources available to Pakistan.  So it was decided to construct a fence for prevention of cross-border terrorism.  Originally conceived in 2005, again considered in 2007 and finally 35 kilometer long border at the crucial points was built with the help of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and Afghanistan, but soon they backed out of this project.  However, the blame game continued putting fingers on Pakistan. In Musharraf’s time a biometric system was introduced at some crossing points, but Afghanistan objected to it and did not allow it to function.

It is not only Afghanistan which faces terrorist activities from inside its territory blaming on Pakistan for, but Pakistan also faces Afghanistan-based terrorists of TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) and its splinter groups operating from within Afghan territory.  They have committed heinous crimes in Pakistan in the shape of bomb blasts, suicide explosions, assassinations and target killings. They are the product of Pakistan’s support to the NATO-led operations in Afghanistan and its cooperation in toppling the Taliban rule.  The US invasion of Afghanistan has played havoc with the socio-economic structure and stability of Pakistan.

Finally it was decided that Pakistan would fence 2611 km long border with its own resources, 143 km in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 1268 in Baluchistan with building of 250 FC forts after each 3 km and 16-foot high watch towers at every kilometre manned by security forces and patrolled by sixty thousand troops. 1100 km trenches along Afghan border in Baluchistan have already been completed.  It is said that about 443 forts and check posts have to be built, some 200 have been completed and the rest would be completed till the end of 2019.  It would cost hefty sum of more than 505 million dollars.  On the other side Afghanistan has only 145 check posts as against 1126 Pakistani posts (1:7) along the border.

Afghanistan is opposed to fencing the border because it does not recognize Durand Line as international border. So many times skirmishes have been provoked by it killing military and civilian personnel of Pakistan and those working on this project face snipers’ attacks on daily basis at the hands of state and non-state actors from across the border.  Afghans even strongly protested to Pakistan when she decided to merge FATA, which for long remained a den of terrorists of all hues, with KP as integral part of the country enjoying equal rights with the rest of the country.

Pakistan is determined to finish fencing the entire length of the border which in many places is topographically very difficult to fence.  Conveying the barbed wires and construction materials to the tops of mountains where barbed wires could be fixed is a herculean task.  Most of the times materials are transported to the mountains tops over mules and donkeys because these places are not reachable by vehicular transport. But this is force majeure which has placed Pakistan in an unenviable situation.  Blaming every mishap on the doorstep of Pakistan by Afghans is understandable, but sometimes the chorus is joined by international actors is depressing.  Americans, on the one hand, want Pakistan to eliminate Afghan Taliban on its soil and simultaneously tolerate the presence of millions of Afghan refugees, while, on the other side, are beseeching to play a middleman role to bring them to a negotiated settlement.  This is contradictory wish-list.

US has spent more than a trillion dollars on this venture of longest war in its history with zero results. Far from weakening Taliban their presence has contributed to strengthening Taliban and creating deadliest and more ferocious enemy in the shape of Islamic State threatening the whole region.   Therefore, the region is sceptical about US intentions.  However, Pakistan is playing its due role in mitigating those fears; the border fencing is one of the glaring examples.

By Juma Khan Sufi

The writer is an Afghan expert, academic and author

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