Pakistan is about to take a new step in its fight against terrorism. The barrier it is building on the Durand Line, the 2,640 km (1,640 mile) land border between Afghanistan and Pakistan that crosses rugged mountains, densely forested valleys and narrow rocky passages, is on track. ‘completion.
Islamabad began closing its porous border with Afghanistan in March 2017, after facing a series of deadly attacks from Pakistani militant groups based in Afghanistan the previous year. Despite a slowing economy, disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and an unstable security environment, work at the border has continued uninterrupted for the past four years. So far, 85% of the border has been closed and the remaining works are expected to be completed by April 2021.
The border fence consists of two sets of chain link fences, separated by a 2 meter (6 foot) space filled with coils of accordion wire. The double fence, which is 3.6 meters high (11 feet) on the Pakistani side and 4 meters high (13 feet) on the Afghan side, is equipped with surveillance cameras and infrared detectors. In addition, nearly 1,000 forts are also being built along the border to increase security. Cross-border movement will only be allowed through 16 officially designated crossing points after the completion of the project, which is expected to cost more than $ 500 million in total.
For the past two decades, the areas surrounding the Durand Line have been used by armed groups, such as the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Kabul has long accused Pakistan of providing refuge for the Afghan Taliban. Islamabad, on the other hand, has raised similar concerns regarding TTP’s presence in Afghanistan.
Indeed, Pakistan and Afghanistan have repeatedly found leading criminals they sought to capture and eliminate in their backyards in recent years. In 2016, for example, Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Manor was killed by an American drone attack in Pakistan’s Balochistan region. Two years later, in 2018, TTP leader Mullah Fazhlullah was killed by another US drone attack in the Afghan province of Kunar.
Pakistan says its border fence will dramatically increase security in turbulent border areas and end tensions it has experienced with its neighbor over militant cross-border attacks. Critics of the project say, however, that while the fence is likely to deter Afghanistan-based anti-Pakistani militants from carrying out cross-border attacks, the Afghan Taliban will continue to cross the border at will, with a wink and a nod from Pakistan. .
Pakistan also hopes that the border fence will prevent any future unrest in Afghanistan from spreading to its territory. Indeed, if Afghanistan sinks into chaos again in the years to come, the wall will help curb the influx of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan. In 1989, when Russia withdrew from Afghanistan, the ensuing civil war resulted in the migration of millions of Afghan refugees to Pakistan.
Additionally, the fence will help curb cross-border drug and arms smuggling that helps support terrorist groups in the region. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan is the source of 80 to 90 percent of the world’s opium supply. About 45 percent of Afghan opium, which is used in the production of heroin, is trafficked via Pakistan to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
However, the reasons Pakistan is embarking on this massive fence project are not just to increase border security and prevent smuggling. The fence will also help Pakistan politically by cementing the Durand Line as a permanent border between the sovereign territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Afghanistan contests the border drawn by the British colonial authorities, with the agreement of the then Afghan leader, Amir Abdul Rehman, in 1893. He argues that the border is a “colonial imposition” which divides the ancestral lands of the Pashtun tribes between two countries, and asserts sovereignty over the Pashtun territories on the Pakistani side of the border which include the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of the North West Frontier Province. Kabul also argues that the deal between British officials and Rehman had a 100-year timeline, which expired in 1993.
Pakistan, on the other hand, considers the border it inherited from the British after independence as legal and final. And he hopes his ambitious border fence project will put an end to the dispute over the Durand Line for good.
Even before its completion, the border fence offered visible advantages to Pakistan.
Since 2007, Pakistan has carried out numerous kinetic operations, notably Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, to root out terrorist groups from the former FATA. However, the de facto open border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has undermined the security gains made through these operations. He allowed the militants to avoid capture by escaping to Afghanistan. These militants, after recovering and regrouping in Afghanistan, then launched new attacks against Pakistan. But since the Pakistani fencing project started, these same activists have started to find it much more difficult to move between the two countries and evade the Pakistani government’s efforts to prevent their attacks. The number of cross-border terrorist attacks originating in Afghanistan fell from 82 in 2019 to just 11 in 2020.
However, the border fence also presented Pakistan with new challenges. The fence has had negative effects on the daily lives of families with relatives on both sides of the border. Likewise, it has harmed subsistence farmers whose lands straddle the border. The situation has already forced several farmers to sell their land at disposable prices. Traders who made a living exporting food and other goods from Pakistan to Afghanistan and vice versa have also been affected as they now have to obtain visas to cross the border and pay customs fees for goods that ‘they bring.
Pakistan is already working to mitigate the negative effects of the border fence on the lives of civilians living in the region. It has an agreement with Afghanistan to establish joint trading markets along the border and discussions are underway as to exactly where these markets should be established and what items should be traded there. It also plans to financially compensate farmers who have land on both sides of the border. For families living across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Islamabad will issue long-term passes.
The closure of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is a necessary step to curb militancy in the border areas and bring stability to the former FATA. But on its own, it will not solve the myriad of problems in the region. The border fence will undoubtedly provide tactical respite for Pakistan and reduce the number of cross-border attacks. But until a lasting peace is achieved in Afghanistan and the grievances of the Pashtun tribes living near the border are resolved, no barrier will succeed in bringing long-term peace, stability and security to the region. .
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.