Pakistan’s claim on disputed border

Afghanistan’s long and rugged frontier with Pakistan is being mined and fenced by Islamabad in response to mounting criticism from Kabul and its Western allies that Islamabad is not doing enough to stop the resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda from crossing the porous border. Although Pakistan’s professed reason for mining and fencing the border is to stop Taliban infiltration into Afghanistan and help NATO and coalition troops gain greater strategic advantage over the mujahiddin fighters, its strategy is driven by hopes of attaining its own narrowly perceived national interests — legitimising and securing its north-western frontier with Afghanistan.

Resolving the border dispute is highly significant for Pakistan, as it feels threatened by India on one side and a belligerent, allegedly pro-India Afghanistan on the other.

The Pakistan-Afghan dispute over the Durand Line dates back to the time of Pakistan’s creation in 1947. Successive Afghan governments refused to recognise the line and tensions, at least on one occasion, almost drove the two neighbours to an all out war.

Because of the prevailing circumstances in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Islamabad is in a good position to exploit the situation for its own ends and advance its national interests in a region where historically it has had little control or influence.

Initially Afghans viewed Pakistan’s suggestions of mining and fencing the disputed border region as a convenient way for Pakistan not to address the real issue and evade its responsibility of going after Taliban leadership reportedly headquartered in Quetta, Baluchistan. Afghans said that maintaining that border fencing and mining was impractical and that if Pakistan wanted, Taliban could continue to cross it. Instead they demand that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan be captured and their sanctuaries destroyed. Despite strong objections from the Afghan government and Pashtuns on both sides of the line, followed by voicing of similar concerns by some Western countries, the work on fencing and mining the border areas continues.

The Afghan government on the other hand avoided addressing the real issue of concern and instead issued an emotional appeal. President Hamid Karzai objected to the mining on humanitarian grounds, saying such a move will permanently separate the closely linked Pashtun communities and disrupt their lives. Instead, the Afghan government should have clearly articulated its position, mobilised public opinion at home and abroad and opposed the plan for political reasons.

Pakistan’s real motive behind fencing the border is not to prevent Taliban and Al Qaeda from crossing it; the border is too long and porous to be effectively controlled. Pakistan is exploiting growing western concerns about Taliban infiltration into Afghanistan from its territory, which is undermining NATO and coalition and Afghan efforts to stabilise southern and eastern Afghanistan. Pakistan’s strategic objective of resolving the border question with Afghanistan and the West’s desire to protect its forces in Afghanistan have splendidly coincided.

The Afghan government must say that Afghanistan does not recognise the Durand Line, and opposes its mining and fencing because such a move will legitimise it in the eyes of the world. — IPS