By: Zakir Sahar
In recent tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, heavy fighting broke out on 16 July 2020 in Kunar Province of Afghanistan between Afghan and Pakistani forces after Pakistan military tried to build a gate along Durand-Line in the Province. According to the Afghan media, 8 civilians were martyred, and eleven others were wounded in Pakistani forces shelling on the check posts of Afghan forces and nearby villages. Afghan National Security Advisor, Hamdullah Mohib, along with other high-ranking government security officials visited KunarProvince, met with the bereaved families and vowed not to allow anyone to build gate or any other installation along Durand-Line.
There have been sporadic skirmishes between the Afghan and Pakistani forces along the Durand-Line after Pakistan army started fencing 100km area in Bajuar and Mohmand Agencies along the Durand line in early 2017. According the reports, 800 miles of the total 1600 miles of the Durand-Line is fenced and more than 1000 military outposts are being built by Pakistaniarmy.
Pakistan position on fencing the Durand-Line is to enhance its security by curbing the movement of terrorists and other criminals between the two countries. Keeping in mind the history of the support of Pakistan to terrorist organizations, especially to Afghan Taliban, and the free movement of the foot soldiers and leaders of Afghan Taliban in main cities of Pakistan, the claim of putting a halt to the movement of terrorists seems unfounded. In fact, fencing the Durand-Line serves three main interests of Pakistan:
First, fencing by Pakistan is a unilateral demarcation of the Durand-Line which hasn’t been demarcated properly since 1893. This unilateral demarcation would enable Pakistan to hold the strategic positions along Durand-Line and, in some parts, take the territory of Afghanistan. Fencing, building military installations, digging trenches and other activities along Durand Line by Pakistan can also be seen as an attempt to strengthen the de facto aspects of the issue of Durand Line and to compel the Afghan government to come to some sort of terms in recognizing this line drawn by British India between Afghanistan and India and has never been formally recognized by the Afghan side since then.
Second, fencing of the Durand Line and cross-Durand Line shelling are parts of the making of the strategic, but unfounded,Pakistani narrative that terrorism now emanates from Afghanistan and Afghanistan, not Pakistan, is the safe haven of terrorists. By fencing and shelling, Pakistan wants to show to the international community that Pakistan is victim of cross-border terrorism. Playing a victim card has remained a classic Pakistani strategy towards Afghanistan and India. This has, however, helped the establishment of Pakistan to mobilize support of the extremist groups within the country and win over the sympathy of the international community over the course of history.
Third, fencing of the Durand Line will cease the free and traditional movement of the tribal people on both sides of the line. Some people in Pakistani establishment believe that shutting down of free movement of tribal people along the Durand line will strengthen their Pakistani identity and would diminish their affiliation towards Afghanistan. Thus, it would enable Pakistan army to strengthen its hold on tribal belt.
Though, the Pakistani establishment has been to some extent able to achieve success in its clandestine strategies, but people living across the Durand line, Afghan government and regional as well as international powers do realize the deceptive nature of the establishment and do not fall prey into deceptive policies. The best way to eliminate the scourge of terrorism, which is the common enemy of both nations, Pakistani establishment shouldreview its policy regarding Afghanistan and focus more on sincere and practical cooperation with Afghanistan and international community in bringing lasting peace in Afghanistan. Fencing and building walls only divide people and families, diminish economic opportunities, and create physical and mental distances in this era of connectivity and globalization.
The author is an independent columnist and writer on regional political and security issues.