Published in Pakistan Observer:

When Berlin wall was torn down a quarter-century ago, there were 16 border fences around the world. Presently, there are 65 either completed or under construction. In Belfast, they are called peace lines and are 99 in number that separate Catholic and Protestant communities. Israel’s wall is called the apartheid wall. India has built a 2500 miles’ fence around Bangladesh and Morocco has its huge sand berm. The most obvious stated reason for raising barriers is the risk of terrorism. Walls and fences are becoming popular with state apparatuses that want to look tough on migration and security.

South Asia is following the US and EU deterrence model of building walls and fences, to deter cross border terrorism, migration and human trafficking. Professor Elisabeth Vallet, Adjunct Professor, University of Quebec at Montreal, Canada, says, 3 kinds of border walls have emerged in the 21st century, anti-migration walls (most common), anti-trafficking walls, and anti-terrorism walls.

The recent spate of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, that originated from Afghanistan has propelled Pakistan towards looking at more stringent border management mechanisms, which also include fencing the Afghan border. The ISPR in its statement said, “A secure Pak-Afghan border is in the common interest of both the countries and a well-coordinated border security mechanism is essential for enduring peace and stability.”

Polls show most Pakistani support building the wall, however, the Afghans are totally against it, largely because Kabul disputes the Durand line as the international border. In 2012 Richard E Hoagland, US deputy chief of mission in Pakistan, had said at a media discussion that “the US recognized the Durand Line as an international border. If the government in Kabul has other interpretation, that’s certainly their business.” Kabul has once again said, it was not consulted before the fencing exercise.
Attempts to regulate the border by the Pakistani side has met with stiff resistance by Afghanistan in the past, resulting in fatalities on both sides. The recent skirmish along the border started in mid of 2016 over the construction of “Pakistan Gate” at the Torkham border crossing.

The border gate, trench and the fence are a major bone of contention between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan way back in 2005, had made public its intention of building a 2400 km fence along its border with Afghanistan to check armed militants and drugs smugglers between the two countries. Pakistan revived the plan in 2006. In April 2007, Pakistan fenced 12 km of the border stretch around the South Waziristan agency of FATA. The Afghan troops tore down the fence, leading to a gun battle. However, Pakistan despite Afghanistan’s opposition started digging several km long trench along the Baluchistan border in April, 2013, which was completed in 2016. The trench is quite a deterrence against militant infiltration and drugs smuggling, it is 11 feet deep and 14 feet wide.

The atrocious terrorist attack on Peshawar Army Public School in 2014, originating from Afghanistan’s strengthened Pakistan’s resolve to manage the border more effectively. The terrorist movement in particular and drug trafficking in general is not curtailed by the frequent border closures, Pakistan has had to resort to.

Border closure or authentic travel documents as a means to address the terror issue is futile, terrorists and other illegal actors do not use official crossings. Wahid Muzhdah, a Kabul based reporter says that there are over 20 unofficial crossings along the Pak-Afghan border that militants use to move between the two countries. The most commonly used ones are Torkham and Chaman.

In the first phase of Afghan border fencing, high infiltration prone border areas in Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber agencies are being fenced. In phase two, fencing of remaining border areas in KPK and Baluchistan will be done. New forts and border posts are also being built to improve surveillance and defensibility.
After almost a war-like situation on the western border for the last one and half year. This is the only option Pakistan has. The security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating by the day. The weak and divided government of Afghanistan is incapable of taking any decisive action on the ground. The Trump administration is still unsure of what it’s doing in Afghanistan, except perhaps committing more troops.

Both US and Afghanistan join hands in blaming Pakistan for their failure on ground. The countries that are taking tangible steps to improve the situation are Pakistan, China and Russia. However, Afghanistan is skeptical of Pakistan and Russia, quiet towards China and trusts only India.

South Asia is fast becoming a region that has borders that are fenced, laser walled, radar watched, guarded and have flood lights. Whether it’s Pakistan-India border or India Bangladesh border or Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

New Delhi is now looking at installing, what they call “smart fencing” on the Pak-India border. A Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) is also being worked out, where the security of Pakistan-India and India-Bangladesh border will shift from the regular troops patrolling systems to a quick reaction team pattern, where guards strike once they notice infiltration on the surveillance radars. Moreover, interestingly if India introduced CIBMS, it’s for its security, how is it any different for Pakistan. Both India and Afghanistan are opposing the border fencing.

Pakistan is not harbouring terrorists; it’s fighting a war against them. It has not objected to the fencing of its eastern border by India and has the sovereign right to fence its western border.

— The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at IBA Karachi.

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