By: Adnan Adil
Securing the Pak-Afghan frontier has become a challenging task for Pakistan as all the horrific violence in recent times has poured in from across this boundary. Trained militants and arms and explosives arrive in Pakistan via this border, and large-scale smuggling of goods and narcotics, a major source of funding for terrorist, take place through it.
The 2,430-km long Durand Line has become a symbol of lawlessness and violence both for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Uncontrolled border crossings are helpful to terrorists who use both countries as their hideouts. Despite the government’s claims of heightened security at the border, the movement continues through numerous informal routes if not the officially designated crossings. There are at least 262 crossing points at the Durand Line including eight formal ones.
Investigations into recent incidents of terrorism in Pakistan lead to terrorists’ bases and training camps located in Afghanistan. For instance, the accused in the recent Lahore bombing hailed from the Bajaur Agency and told the police that he frequently visited the adjacent areas in Afghanistan where he developed ties to the militant organisation, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. Similarly, according to the Sindh police, the suspected bomber at Sehwan Sharif was also found to be from Afghanistan.
In our society religious and sectarian fanaticism has always existed but it transformed into organised violence thanks to easy access to arms, ammunition and explosives. Before military operations these weapons would originate in the northwestern tribal region. As terrorists have relocated their bases across the western frontier, now they come from Afghanistan to our cities via the bordering areas of FATA and Balochistan.
The members of the same tribes that live along the Pak-Afghan border keep visiting each other across the line. A segment of Afghan refugees, having residences and properties in both the countries, also keep crossing the border. This provides militants an opportunity to use these communities and their informal travel routes, unmanned passes into mountains, to smuggle their people and arms and explosives from one side to the other – on mules if passing through difficult informal routes in mountains.
The Pak-Afghan border also serves as a major source of funding for terrorist groups, including Taliban and Daesh. Smuggling of narcotics comes in handy. According to the World Drug Report in 2016, Pakistan is the main passage country for narcotics produced in Afghanistan, which accounts for the 90 percent of entire illegal opium-based drugs in the world. The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) estimated that nearly 43 percent of the Afghan drugs passed through Pakistan. The report estimated the export value of narcotics from Afghanistan at about four billion dollars.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan transit trade agreement that gives Afghanistan licence to import duty-free goods via Pakistan is another avenue of illegal trade across the border as a large part of these goods are smuggled back into Pakistan. It is estimated that at least $3 billion per annum are involved in the smuggling of goods including tyres, cigarettes, vehicles and electronic etc. A vested interest that benefits from the smuggling involving 8-10 billion dollars per year exists that opposes complete sealing-off of the border on one excuse or the other.
In recent years, faced with escalation in Taliban’s intrusion from Afghanistan into the tribal area, the state has taken some measures aimed at management of the Durand boundary but they have proved to be inadequate. In 2016, Pakistan built a 500-km long trench along the southern portion of the 1,165-km long western border in Balochistan. The ditch has been dug along the border’s length except at the places where terrain is thought to be impassable.
Moreover, in 2011, Pakistan started fencing the border area in collaboration with the United States and Afghanistan, but the project was abandoned only after a stretch of 35-kliometre was fenced. The state did not resume fencing even after the horrible attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar. During the last six years, Pakistanis have paid a high cost for not sealing-off of the border.
After Sehwan Sharif’s massacre, Army Chief Gen Javed Bajwa announced that the entire Pak-Afghan border would be fenced. It has been reported that Frontier Corps (FC) has started fencing of key border points. In addition, it has been claimed in media that aerial surveillance and special radar systems are being installed on the border. Hope this time round, the job will not be left unfinished.
While blocking the illegal border crossings, the rights and interests of tribes living for centuries at or close the Durand line can be protected through a variety of administrative measures. Similarly, the border management aimed at preventing illegal movement needs not to hurt formal bilateral trade such as through Torkham crossing. Terrorists do not use formal routes.