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Hilal English

Western Border Management and Regional Stability

October 2018

Of late, most South Asian nations have started to follow the U.S. 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 three kinds of border walls have emerged in the 21st Century: anti-migration walls, which are the most common, anti-trafficking walls and anti-terrorism walls.

Since Pakistan launched its operations against terrorists, the Pak-Afghan border and its mismanagement has been widely discussed locally and internationally. The Afghan state’s rejection of the border and an increase in militancy in Pakistan, cross-border attacks and the movement of militants led to a debate within Pakistan and abroad on effective management and regulation of the border.

Successive governments in both countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan – have been facing immense domestic security threats, largely emanating from the unrestricted movement of militants across the Pak-Afghan border. This porous border has seen an unprecedented and unmonitored movement of thousands of people daily, with more than 90 percent of the flow originating from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

The recent attacks in Pakistan that originated in Afghanistan and which our intelligence agencies have shared with the Afghan authorities have forced Pakistan to look at more stringent border management mechanisms, which include fencing. As per a statement issued by ISPR on June 20, 2017: “Measures to improve the security situation along the Pak-Afghan border continue. In line with the directions of the COAS (Chief of Army Staff), phased fencing of the entire Pak-Afghan border commenced. A secure Pak-Afghan border is in the common interest of both countries and a well-coordinated border security mechanism is essential for enduring peace and stability.”

Moreover, after a war-like situation on our western border for the last seventeen years and continuous cross-border attacks from terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan have left Pakistan with only one option – to fence its borders.

Pakistan is managing its borders with Iran and China effectively. Of late, Pakistan initiated a mechanism to secure its western border as is being done on the southwestern and northeastern borders. Pakistan is of the view that maintaining the border would eventually increase the security checks and scrutinize the movement of terrorists along the Pak-Afghan border. An effective border management system is central to the achievement of long-lasting peace and stability for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The presence of the TTP hideouts into Afghanistan led to an increase in attacks waged by the TTP from their bases in Afghanistan against Pakistan. This was seen in attacks on Army Public School Peshawar, Bacha Khan University, Charsadda, Agriculture Training Institute, Peshawar and in Lahore in February 2017. Such attacks at the hands of terrorists have led to the loss of precious lives and injured many.

These tragedies strengthened Pakistan’s resolve to manage the border more effectively. As a result, Pakistan Army under the leadership of Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa has initiated a plan for effective border management and has begun to implement measures on its side to prevent militants crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan and vice versa. While Pakistan has repeatedly asked the Afghan authorities to take action against the TTP leadership and their hideouts in the eastern provinces of the country, and to adopt joint border initiatives, they have been less than forthcoming.

Hence, with no compliance from the Afghan side, Pakistan, since its creation in 1947 and for the first time, has started work on its western side. This includes the erection of a border fence, construction of border forts, and installation of the latest surveillance system and the construction of border terminals. It is also being ensured that both Afghans and Pakistanis moving across the border have valid travel documents. Effective border control is aimed at changing the centuries-old paradigm of unregulated borders into that of one which is managed and regulated according to the social norms of the tribal areas. This is aimed at denying illegal movement to people and goods, thereby checking cross-border movement of terrorists, their facilitators and abettors etc.

Pakistan’s western border fencing has started in the tribal districts and Dir/Chitral (1229.91 kms), but only 830 kms can be fenced out of this area and it is an arduous task. The fence runs along some of the most inhospitable border regions, from snow-capped mountains to rugged terrains to lush green valleys. Thousands of Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps soldiers and hundreds of vehicles have been deployed daily at over 40 sites to undertake the fencing from Chitral to South Waziristan. They have been putting in 7,000 hours to install the pre-fabricated material on daily basis.

As the fence became a reality, Pakistan Army busted the myth that this border was so perilous that it could not be fenced. By December 2018, the first phase will include the high infiltration-prone areas of the tribal districts of Khyber, Bajaur, Mohmand, North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Kurram and Dir/Chitral, which is a total of 520 kms to be fenced. In the second phase, the remaining 310 kms would be completed by December 2019. So far, 300 kms have been completed in segments of Upper Dir/Chitral, Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, North Waziristan and South Waziristan.

This fence is also suitably incorporated with technical surveillance known as the Special Intrusion Detection System (SID) for monitoring of the entire western border, which cannot be physically controlled throughout by a physical presence. The main challenge has been the complexity of the terrain, which includes vast stretches of mountain ranges, some as high as 11,500 feet. The supply of construction materials, tough weather conditions, cross-border fire on fencing parties and patrolling in the mountains is a costly endeavor, but Pakistan Army soldiers are tackling it. Another main difficulty has been the lack of capacity of the Afghan forces to control the threat emanating from across the border onto Pakistani soil.

Besides fencing, Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are constructing border forts and border posts to improve surveillance and defensibility. As a result, not only have terrorist hideouts in the tribal districts of KP been eliminated, but violence and terrorist activities in Pakistan have also decreased significantly.

As part of the project, Pakistan Army is constructing some 443 border forts along its western border at the intervals of 1.5 km to 3 kms along the Pak-Afghan Border to cover frequented and unfrequented routes, some of which are built on mountain tops as high as 12,000 feet. In this regard about 162 border forts have already been completed and the remaining will be constructed by the end of 2019.

This will serve as a strong line of defence, but these huge undertakings have not come without a human cost. According to the available data of the last six months of the current year 2018, there have been 288 cross-border firing incidents by terrorists from the Afghanistan side, including sniping/firing raids on border posts and fencing parties in the 11 Corps’ area of responsibility alone, in which dozens of security personnel were martyred and hundreds others were injured. Moreover, in year 2017, a total of 482 cross-border incidents perpetrated by the terrorists from across the border were recorded in 11 Corps’ area of responsibility.

The fencing of the Pak-Afghan border sends a clear message that ‘enough is enough’. Pakistan has also said that it will go ahead with measures to make its western border effective. Pakistan no longer allows people without a valid passport and visa to enter at key crossing points. In addition to Torkham in the district of Khyber, the recently constructed Kharlachi border terminal in Kurram and Ghulam Khan, the picturesque Miranshah valley, North Waziristan will also offer key land routes to Afghanistan via Ghulam Khan, which would eventually be connected by the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The construction of the border terminal at Angoor Adda in South Waziristan is also being undertaken in line with the Torkham border which will facilitate legal entrants and increase trade in the region.

The data shows that Pakistan has lost revenue in billions from illegal trade activities on the Pak-Afghan border. Border terminals are significantly linked to revenue generation and the establishment of an effective taxpaying culture.

Pakistan Army is building the capacity of its Frontier Corps (FC) to effectively man the long and zigzag Pak-Afghan international border. Fourteen FC wings have been raised already and as many as 28 are in the offing. These FC wings are fully operational and deployed in the KP along with Pakistan Army troops.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan should cooperate and find a workable mechanism to manage and regulate their common border and transform it into a conduit for cooperation rather than confrontation. It is essential that Pakistan and Afghanistan find a joint mechanism to manage, stabilise and control cross-border movement by imposing an effective border control regime that halts illegal crossings and facilitates the legal movement of people and goods. Border fencing undertaken by Pakistan should be welcomed and reciprocated by Afghanistan with the aim to transform this historically difficult border into a means for peace and cooperation. In addition to the three currently functional border terminals at Torkham, Ghulam Khan and Kharlachi, both countries should strive to make the numerous border terminals in to legal and recognised entry and exit points. The construction of border terminals would also be an important step towards reducing tensions, generating economic activities and assisting the legal movement of humans, goods and services. It would also prevent the illegal movement of militant groups, as well as smuggling, illicit drugs and arms trafficking.

For far too long, the Pak-Afghan border has been used by militant groups and elements whose activities have been detrimental to the vital interests of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan should continue to implement border initiatives on its side regardless of the cross-border threats and capability of Afghan forces to handle them. The aim of implementing the border initiatives is not to prevent or deter the movement of people or goods; it is only meant to regulate and legalise movement. Hence, both countries need to adopt a reciprocal framework of border management and especially Afghan government needs to improve the capacity of their security forces to check ungoverned swathes and more importantly check the threat that resides inside Afghanistan. Measures also need to be adopted to improve the flow of trade and commerce through trade rules and regulations.

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