Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan
Before carrying out a detailed dissection of the border fencing undertaken by Pakistan along the 2670-kilometre-long Pak-Afghan porous border commonly called the Durand Line, I think it pertinent to mention that my deliberation on the topic comes in the backdrop of a recent distasteful incident that happened on Torkham border a few days back the video of which went viral on social media showing Taliban soldiers trying to disrupt a border fence being erected by Pakistani security forces along the border. So it is necessary to give a brief history of the Durand Line which has largely remained an apple of discord between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Durand Line is an internationally recognized border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Western end touches the border with Iran while the Eastern end runs to the border of China. Twelve Afghan provinces that include Nimroz, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, Paktika, Khost, Paktia, Logar, Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan and Badakhshan, and three Pakistani provinces, i.e. Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB) are located along the Durand Line border.
At the end of the first phase of the Second Anglo-Afghan war, the border agreement was signed on 12 November 1893 between the representative of British Raj Sir Mortimer Durand and the ruler of Afghanistan Amir Abdur Rahman Khan. It was ratified on 8 August 1919 at the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War. According to Article V of 8 August 1919 Treaty, the two contracting parties mutually accepted the Durand Line as the Indo-Afghan border and was formally established as the international border between British India and the Emirate of Afghanistan. The agreement led to the creation of a new province called the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).The agreement contains seven short articles/clauses, including a commitment not to exercise interference beyond the Durand Line. The line was inherited by Pakistan in 1947 following the partition of India.
As a soft reminder to my Afghan brothers from the other side of the divide who show reservations to recognize the Durand Line as international border between the two immediate neighbours, I would like to cite two important statements regarding the Durand Line that reaffirm it as an international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan as under:
In 1950, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom held its view on the Pakistan-Afghanistan dispute over the Durand Line by stating:
“His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom has seen with regret the disagreements between the government of Pakistan and Afghanistan about the status of the territories on the North West Frontier. It is His Majesty’s Government’s view that Pakistan is in international law the inheritor of the rights and duties of the old Government of India and of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom in these territories and that the Durand Line is the international frontier.”
(30 June 1950)
At the 1956 Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) Ministerial Council Meeting held in Karachi on 8 March, the then capital of Pakistan, it was stated:
“The members of the Council declare that their governments recognize that the sovereignty of Pakistan extends up to the Durand Line, the international boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that it was consequently affirmed that the Treaty area referred to in Articles IV and VIII of the Treaty includes the area up to that Line.”
(8 March 1956)
Unfortunately, successive rulers of Afghanistan have expressed their reservations over the status of Durand Line as the border between the two neighbouring countries. However, a pleasant change in Afghanistan’s stance on the status of the Durand Line was witnessed when Sardar Muhammad Daud, former President of Afghanistan, softening his tone, recognized the border during his visit to Pakistan in 1976.
The border area between the two countries has long been one of the most dangerous places in the world, due largely to very little government control. Being a long porous border, Durand Line has remained a safe haven for the terrorist activities of militant forces that has created serious security issues inside Pakistan. Before border fencing, many forms of illegal activities such as smuggling of weapons, narcotics, gemstone, marble, vehicles, electronics as well as ordinary consumer goods took place unchecked. Kidnappings and murders had become order of the day. Militants frequently crossed the border and sneaked into Pakistani territory to carry out terrorist activities at will. The militants operating from Afghanistan would launch attacks on Pakistan border posts.
In order to stop militants from crossing the border and carry out terrorist activities inside Pakistan, the government of Pakistan during General Pervez Musharraf’s regime in 2007 took a principled decision to build fence-barrier along the long porous border known as the Durand Line as it was the only way to prevent the terrorists from crossing over and conduct terrorist operations. But due to certain difficulties including financial constraints, the project couldn’t take off immediately.
Finally, in March 2017, regular work on border fencing started after a spate of deadly attacks from Afghanistan-based Pakistani militant groups. The work continued uninterrupted during the last four years. So far, 90% of the border has been fenced and the remaining work is expected to be completed in a couple of months. The double-fence which is 3.6 metres high (11 feet) on Pakistani side and 4 metres high (13 feet) on Afghan side, is fitted with surveillance cameras and infrared detectors. Besides, around 1000 forts are also being built along the border to ensure watertight security.
With 90% work on the project completed, the number of terrorist attacks from Afghan side has been substantially reduced and the fencing has provided both the countries with perceptible benefits. It has undoubtedly provided a tactical respite for Pakistan. It is hoped that after the completion of the project, terrorist activities by the militants will be completely eliminated as cross-border movement will only be allowed through 16 formally designated points under strict security check.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime is expected to appreciate that border fencing is the need of the hour and is in the best interest of both the countries as this is the only way to control terrorist activities and bring peace not only to both the countries but also to the entire region. Pakistan firmly believes that its border fencing will extensively increase security in restive border areas and put to rest the ongoing terrorist activities it has been facing for the last more than two decades. Taliban need to realize that the fence-barrier will prevent any future turmoil in Afghanistan from spilling into their territory. Pakistan also believes that the barrier will help curtail the refugee influx from Afghanistan into Pakistan should the security environment and economic conditions deteriorate in Afghanistan.
In the past it was witnessed that following the USSR withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the ensuing civil war resulted in the mass migration of millions of Afghan refugees into Pakistan who are still living in different parts of Pakistan and their return to their homeland doesn’t seem a possibility in near future.
Border fencing is part of a border management system that is needed to address security threats to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fence-barrier will help curb the cross-border terrorism and smuggling of narcotics and weapons that help sustain the terrorist outfits in the region. According to UN office on Drugs and Crime, about 45% of Afghan opium which is used in the production of heroin, is trafficked through the long porous border to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. It’s hoped that Taliban will see reason and come to grips with reality. Instead of resisting the remaining work of fencing and disputing the internationally recognized border, Taliban high command is expected to assess the volatile security environment prevailing around and see the border fencing through the lenses of security and peace which is a dire need of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.