Durand Line Fence
By early December 2020 Pakistan’s military said it would have fenced off the country’s roughly 2,600-kilometer historically porous border with Afghanistan within the next two months. The massive unilateral construction effort that was launched in early 2017 to block militant infiltration, smuggling and other illegal crossings on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Inter Services Public Relations, or ISPR, said the barrier has already been installed along “about 83 percent” of the western Pakistani frontier. Additionally, hundreds of new outposts and forts have been built under the roughly $500 million program. The pair of three-meter-high mesh fences, a couple of meters apart, are filled and topped with coils of razor wire, running through rugged terrain and snow-covered, treacherous mountains at elevations as high as 4,000 meters.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif 02 December 2017 said Pakistan had started work of fencing border with Afghanistan as it was imperative to regulate cross-border movement. Pakistan had started work of fencing the border at its own resources and Afghanistan should also initiate work as it was a collective responsibility of both the countries. He said 60,000 to 70,000 people cross Pak-Afghan border daily so its management was necessary to monitor these movements. Asif said Pakistan had been hosting huge number of Afghan refugees for decades and now was the time of their repatriation in a respectable manner.
Pakistan says that almost 92 percent of its 2,611-kilometer largely porous frontier with Afghanistan will be fenced by end of 2018, hoping the massive unilateral undertaking will effectively address mutual complaints of militant incursions. The military-led construction effort went into action earlier this year. It has already fenced off about a 150-kilometer portion of the border identified as “highly prone” to terrorist infiltration. The pair of nine-foot wire fences, with a six-foot gap, and topped with barbed wire, runs along rugged terrain and snow-capped mountains as high as 12,000 feet. Officials estimate the project will cost about $550 million.
Afghanistan opposed the creation of the state of Pakistan for a number of reasons, one of which was that it would enshrine in international law the Durand Line of 1893 as the boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan claime that the Durand Line was imposed by the British colonial administration under duress. When Pakistan came into being in 1947, the Afghan government was quick to reject the Durand Line as the international border between the two countries because it divided the Pashtun tribes that inhabit the region on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. Thus, Afghanistan laid claim to the larger Pashto-speaking areas that fall within Pakistan's North-West Frontier and Balochistan provinces. Pakistan refused to entertain the thought of ceding any territory.
The boundary had to be demarcated with border pillars (BPs) where it did not follow natural features. Some BPs were constructed around inaccessible areas, thus, the border became dilapidated over time. But the residue still exists at certain places on the ridge lines. The Durand Line is not as apparent to the local population on the ground as it appears on the maps. The local population residing along the Durand Line never paid much attention to it and remains ignorant of its reality. The people of the region cross the Durand Line at will and do not treat it as a boundary.
In the 1980s, frustrated by their inability to close the border with Pakistan, the Soviets heavily mined the border region and infiltration routes. These tactics did not significantly impact Mujahideen operations. In 1982, the Soviets even contemplated constructing a border security system, including guard towers, fences, and minefields. However, the Soviets were unwilling to commit the monetary resources or the estimated 300,000 troops necessary to construct and man such a system. Ultimately, the Soviets deployed an inadequate force to Afghanistan to militarily deny the Mujahideen either internal sanctuary or transnational aid and sanctuary.
In 2005, Pakistan had 665 checkpoints along the 1519-mile Pakistan-Afghan border, whereas the US-led forces and the Afghan National Army manned only 69 combined posts. At that time Pakistan decided to erect a fence and plant mines to secure the border. Afghanistan vehemently opposed the 2006 Pakistani proposal to fence the border.
In 2008 PM Gilani said he had discussed this issue with President Bush, pointing out the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area is a vast area, marked by rugged, inhospitable terrain and difficult to guard. Gilani had offered to discuss a border fence with Karzai and noted Pakistan's attempt to use biometrics screening at some border crossings, which was ultimately thwarted by the Afghan government's inability to match the technology. Gilani also explained that Pakistan had more than 900 border posts to Afghanistan's 100 and suggested that NATO/ISAF needed to do more to control the space on the Afghan side of the border.
There are two regular border crossings on the Durand Line and Pakistan estimates 50,000 Afghans move back and forth every day. Islamabad has in the past tried to put in place a biometric system to ensure identities of these travelers, but Kabul’s strong opposition stopped the move.
Pakistan rejected Afghan criticism in September 2014 of the 480-kilometer trench its military was digging along their mostly porous border, saying the project is aimed at “effectively” controlling movement of terrorists and flow of drugs and human traffickers into the country. Pakistani forces were digging a trench more than two meters deep and three meters wide in southwestern Baluchistan province, which shares half of the country’s more than 2,500-kilometer border with Afghanistan. Army officials said the trench was expected to be completed in October 2014. They said it would help prevent illegal crossings and reduce terrorist activities that cause strains in bilateral relations.
The project was part of the administrative and security measures Pakistan had undertaken to secure the mountainous border with Afghanistan. Major-General Asim Saleem Bajwa dismissed Kabul’s concerns and criticism of the trench. “We have to protect and secure our borders. So, anything that is done on this side of the border remaining within our own area is very much legal," he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai established a high-level special commission to look into the Pakistani project. Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi is critical of the trench. Sediqi said the commission has been formed and the government is awaiting its findings. But the Afghan spokesman added, “We strongly condemn it and believe that there can be no justification” for digging the trench.
The strategic project of 1,100-kilometer-long trench with the cost of Rs14 billion which was initiated along Pak-Afghan border in Balochistan by Frontier Corps in 2013 was completed in 2016. In the next phase, the project would be extended to the entire long border with Afghanistan, which had opposed this plan.
Pakistan finished the trench along about half the length in 2016, but it did nothing to prevent a recent string of terrorist bombings that ended a relatively quiet period brought about by an ongoing military operation.
Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said 25 March 2017 that the country had started fencing border with Afghanistan in a move to stop the cross-border movement of the militants. Security officials had long been complaining that the Pakistani militants, who have escaped as a result of military operations, now operate from the Afghan soil of the border. During his visit to Pak-Afghan border areas in Mohmand and Orakzai tribal agencies, Bajwa told the troops that fencing has commenced in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies as they are high threat zones. Both Bajaur and Mohmand border Afghanistan and had once been under the influence of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
"Additional technical surveillance means are also being deployed along the border besides regular air surveillance," Bajwa said, adding the Pakistan Army shall employ all resources required for defense of the country and security of peace-loving Pakistani tribes. The army chief said that efforts are in hand to evolve a bilateral border security mechanism with the Afghan authorities, according to an army statement. "A better managed, secure and peaceful border is in mutual interest of both brotherly countries who have given phenomenal sacrifices in the war against terrorism," he said.
“Neither the Afghan government nor the people living on both sides of the imaginary Durand Line can allow Pakistan’s unilateral actions,” said Javed Ahmed Wafa, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s ministry for tribal affairs and border regions.
The Pakistani Army said in a statement on 20 June 2017 that the first phase of fencing would focus on the Bajur, Mohmand, and Khyber tribal regions -- all regarded by authorities as areas prone to cross-border infiltration by various militant groups. The statement also said that new forts and border posts will be built to improve defense and surveillance along the frontier. A secure border "is in the common interest of both countries and a well-coordinated border-security mechanism is essential for enduring peace and stability," the statement said.
Pakistan is building a double fence 11.5 ft high on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as high as 12 feet in height along the peaks at elevations above 10-12000 ft range. The 840km fence in Waziristan region of the tribal agencies called FATA will be completed by end of 2019 and cost $483 million–with no help from the US or Afghanistan, and sometimes even while taking fire from Afghan troops and terrorists alike. The fencing is not just to stop terrorists from crossing the border but also the opium smugglers from doing do.
The fencing goal is twofold – stopping terrorists from crossing the border and the opium smuggling through Pakistan. This might end up reconciling the difference in perspective and the paradox in US strategy in Afghanistan – it blames its “non-NATO ally” Pakistan for not being helpful while itself being unhelpful on the Afghan side in controlling if not elimination the two menaces to Pakistan. Meanwhile, terrorist acts inside Pakistan reduced tremendously over the last year and a half since fencing began with hundreds of manned checkposts along the border.
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