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March 30, 2017

Beyond border fencing


March 30, 2017

The concept of fencing international borders has gained popularity over the past few years due to their enormous projection and the changing socio-economic and socio-political landscape of the global political stage following the unending war on terror.

Today, there are border barriers in Europe, the US is building new border fences on its Mexican side, Egypt is constructing new fences on the Gaza side, and Thailand and Malaysia are building new walls along their border. These are a few instances of how the concept of free borders has faded over time. However, history reveals a different perspective of such fences.

The Great Wall of China did little to halt Genghis Khan and his magnolia army from conquering 13th century China. A study of pre-Ottoman Turkey tell us  that Constantinople’s Ring of Fortifications could not stop the Ottomans from taking over what is the modern-day city of Istanbul. Similarly, in medieval Persia, soldiers breached the fortified wall of Babylon in 539 BC. Yet, the building of border structures persists and countries are still rushing to establish new barriers.

Post-2000, the concept of border fencing and walls is considered to be the only viable solution to the threats emanating from illegal transborder movements. It is believed that when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there were 11 countries with border barriers in the form of barbed wires and walls. By 2017, this number has jumped to more than 70 countries – including Pakistan and India.

Last week, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh, while addressing a gathering, revealed Delhi’s plan to seal the border. A similar news story made headlines in Pakistan as well when Islamabad announced that, in an attempt to quell the highest rate of illegal borders crossings, the increase in drugs and weapons trafficking and terrorist activities, a fence is under construction on the Pak-Afghan border. Media reports suggest that fencing started in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies – which border Nangarhar and Kunar.

Since the announcement to fence the border was made, the decision has generated considerable hype on social media and TV channels. Public opinion is divided on the basis of nationalist sentiments in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan believes that through strict visa regimes, tight border controls and scientific border management, it can curb the infiltration of terrorists attacking its territory and can control the unregistered refugees who are disrupting law and order.

In Pakistan, the decision is backed by both the government and opposition parties who are openly supporting the decision to fence the border. PPP Co-chairperson Asif Zardari said on last Friday that “border management with Afghanistan is critical for addressing issues of militancy and terrorism”.

But in Kabul, the decision has been widely criticised by all sections of Afghan society. Najib Danish, a spokesperson for Afghanistan’s interior ministry, denounced the move. However, he added that construction work had yet to start along the border. The opposition can be attributed to the fact that land-locked Afghanistan disputes the legitimacy of the Durand Line.

Due to the border disagreement, terrorists and smugglers are exploiting the fractured relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and have taken up positions in the border villages where there is no ban on free movements. After any terrorist attack both Pakistan and Afghanistan often accuse each other of harbouring terrorist, failing to take action against banned outfits and waging proxy wars. This blame game can be controlled if both Kabul and Islamabad realise the looming threat of Daesh and other global jihadists which are causing chaos around the world and creating a bad image of both countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan must also develop a consensus on the border barriers by recognising the ground realities and actual situation. But this does not seem to be an easy task owing to misunderstandings, negative propaganda, the lack of strong will and sincere commitment for peace on both parts.

Some may argue that it is costly to take such decisions. But the cost of terrorism on our security, investments, trade and cultural activates and infrastructure is infinite. Kabul and Islamabad needs to understand that without implementing border controls, bomb blasts will become routine.


The writer works at Khyber News.


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