War on Terror

Border Management The Case of Pakistan and Afghanistan Border

Contextual Perspective

International borders are geographic demarcations between the nation states. Borders take the form of physical land boundaries, maritime edges or air frontiers. However, the land borders, more than air and sea, typically illustrate the territorial image of a state. According to Wilson and Donnan (A Companion to Border Studies, Blackwell, 2012), border epistemology has produced a cartographic template of the geopolitical line. Simply put, borders are politically created geographical lines, which represent the limit of legitimacy, symbol of sovereignty and are epitome of various kinds of interstate conflicts, due to varying reasons. International borders act as dividing lines between different political systems but they do not necessarily separate different cultures, languages and religions. 

From the angle of physical makeup, borders may be classified as follows: Natural borders that follow a geographical feature e.g. a river or a mountain range etc; Geometric borders that are shaped by arcs or lines e.g. latitude or longitude regardless of the physical features or social characteristics (especially in Africa); and Relict borders that no longer exist as a political or legal reality, yet, the signs of an erstwhile border do exist e.g. the historical markers along the border between the former East and West Germany.

There are more international borders in the world today than they were ever before in the history of mankind. So is the number of independent sovereign countries. In 1946, the international system was composed of a total of 66 independent nation states. By 1965, the number had risen to 125. The 66 nations in 1946 had a total of 404 borders of different types while the number of borders of 125 countries in 1965 increased to 778. Today, in 2014, there are 288 political entities in the world which include sovereign countries as well as autonomous and semi-autonomous states and islands including overseas self-governing territories of different countries. The number of borders has risen to 1,377. Certainly there are overlaps because of the two-way count, yet, the number of borders is no less than 1,000. Viewed from another angle, some 145 (74 percent) of the 195 sovereign countries in the world are land-based countries, whereas 50 (26 percent) are island nations. Borders may be soft or hard. From the perspective of intensity of control, there are three main types of borders in the world as follows: 15-28 countries (8-14 percent) have open borders (the European Union is the best example); 88-75 countries (45-39 percent) have regulated or controlled borders; and 42 countries (22 percent) have fortified or militarized borders. There could be a mix of two or more features e.g. open but controlled such as the US and Canada, controlled as well as closed such as the US and Mexico, and fortified and closed such as North Korea and South Korea.

Border Management

Border studies deal with interdisciplinary subjects guided by the history, sociology, geography, politics and international statecraft. Border management is one of the important subject matters of border studies. It is imperative for national and regional stability, economic growth, and state as well as human security. Border control, border regulation and border coordination are different terms used to signify the intensity or nature of border management. Borders, around the world, are physically managed by the border police or paramilitary forces, and in certain cases by the armed forces, in conjunction with immigration departments. However, it is a complex national responsibility involving a host of agencies. It also calls for efficient communication with the corresponding agencies of the neighbouring countries.

Border management takes care of two different aspects; the negative and the positive. The negative facets include illegal crossing of each other's citizens, drug trafficking, the trafficking women, children and labour, and smuggling of weapons and explosive, etc. The positive aspects include legal immigration and movement of goods as part of the trade agreements, etc.

Pakistan-Afghanistan Border

Pakistan shares 7,092 kilometres border with other countries; 2,611 kilometres with Afghanistan, 523 kilometres with China, 2,912 kilometres with India and 909 kilometres with Iran, besides 1,046 kilometres of coastline. Amongst these, the porous and volatile border with Afghanistan poses a great challenge. The border with Afghanistan is unique from many angles. A total of 11 out of 34 Afghan provinces adjoin three federating units of Pakistan to include Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Ethnically, the Pashtun population bestrides the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. There are a number of tribes living on both sides of the border. Besides, there are 23 divided villages, six in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 17 in Balochistan, which are split by the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. However, practically, it is neither possible to stop their movement nor is being done so. The people from the divided villages move under the Rahdari System. An important point that must be kept in mind by the readers is that the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is not like the Pakistan-India border. Pakistan and Afghanistan are two brotherly countries, and the border between them has to be managed, not closed, controlled or defended. An effective border management would certainly benefit both the countries in all spheres such as political, social, economic and security. The need for security ought to be balanced with the liberty of movement of people in keeping with the anthropological realities of the region.

Pak-Afghan Border Routes

In addition to the routes serving the three trade corridors, there are about 100 frequented and unfrequented routes. A few of these are notified. Many of these routes are smuggling prone. Some 10,000 to 30,000 people cross the Chaman and Torkham border points daily, which include legal immigrants, traders, personnel from NGOs and NATO assets. Besides, 5,000 to 6,000 illegal crossings take place daily using both frequented and unfrequented routes. This happens despite the fact that there are hundreds of border posts held by Pakistan's security forces on the Pakistani side of the border and a few by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan Border Police (ABP) supported by ISAF/ NATO. This shows the magnitude of problem. Certainly it is not desirable to completely seal off the border. The best answer to the predicament is to carry out a joint, effective and integrated border management.

Cross-Border Attacks and the Foreign Terrorists

During the last few years, this has emerged as one of the most serious border issues. The terrorists from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are hiding in and operating from their sanctuaries in Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan since 2010. During the last about four years, there have been 17 attacks by TTP using its sanctuaries in Afghanistan wherein dozens of civilians and soldiers embraced shahadat. The menace is not receding anyway and needs stern action by the Afghan government and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Another issue is that of the foreign fighters e.g. Uzbeks. These terrorists come to Pakistan via Afghanistan and cross over the less-than-well managed border. A better managed border is likely to provide answers to some of the questions.

Drug Trafficking

One of the gravest threats along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is from the movement of drug traffickers. Whereas Pakistan is a poppy-free country since long, narcotics virtually make up for 50 percent of Afghanistan's GDP according to international sources. About 2.5 million Afghans depend directly on the narcotics production and trafficking. Approximately 94 percent of world opium production transits the region, Afghanistan being the main source. It poses a health security threat not only to the Pakistani populace but other countries beyond Pakistan, too.

Pak-Afghan Politico-Military Communication

Despite security challenges marred by the terror acts on both sides due to the nature of border, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been able to evolve a functional sense of bilateralism over the last few years. Recently, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Kabul on November 30, 2013. During his meeting with President Hamid Karzai, he said, “Achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan's interest. Islamabad desires friendly and good neighbourly relations with Afghanistan based on mutual trust‚ respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The visit by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's special envoy, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, to Kabul on June 20, 2014 has been a step in the same direction. He held a meeting with the Afghan President to seek Kabul's cooperation in eliminating terrorism while Operation Zarb-e-Azb had already been launched. He was also accompanied by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry. Media reports suggest that Mehmood Achakzai sought extradition of the TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah from Afghanistan. This was immediately followed by Afghanistan's National Security Adviser Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta's visit to Islamabad on June 26, 2014. He led delegation-level talks with Sartaj Aziz, the Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs.

The peace process in Afghanistan and bilateral cooperation has a concrete linkage with the situation on border. This calls for a military level answer, which lies in sound and trust-based mil-mil relations between the two countries. To this end, several meetings and rounds of talks have been held heretofore, the latest one held on July 3, 2014. It was a two-star delegation-level meeting that took place in the General Headquarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi wherein it was agreed upon to evolve a robust and effective bilateral border coordination mechanism.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the Border Management

Operation Zarb-e-Azb is important in the context of border management from many angles. First, the terrorists of various hue and colour – TTP and foreign terrorists etc – fleeing from North Waziristan would go across the border, not to live in the shadow of barren boulders of Tora Bora, but somewhere in the populated area of perhaps the Eastern and Southeastern Afghan provinces, and in certain cases in Kabul, Balkh, Badakhshan, Herat, Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif depending on their lingo and linkage. The Afghan government can play an important role to check the movement of terrorists across their border into their country. The Pakistani government had already asked the Afghan government to seal the escape routes from North Waziristan into Afghanistan. NATO and ISAF share this responsibility. Second, Mullah Fazlullah, the topmost leader of the TTP, along with some of his companions, is living in Afghanistan. He has complete liberty to move around in Afghanistan and plan and conduct terror acts in Pakistan. His group is being routed in North Waziristan. Certainly, he would endeavour to provide support to them. Third, the displaced persons (DPs) from North Waziristan have been largely moved to the Frontier Region (FR) Bannu in Bakka Khel area albeit most of them have shifted either with their relatives or in their own hired or second homes. Some of the families, mainly of Afghan origin, have reportedly crossed over to Afghanistan. Some of those going to Afghanistan from North Waziristan are reported to have returned via Khyber and Kurram agencies. The Afghan government needs to register all those moving across the border in any of the two directions.

The military high command has also made necessary coordination with the Afghan counterparts at various levels.

Pakistan-Afghanistan Border Management System (PA-BMS)

Notwithstanding the challenges, keeping the border stable and managed is the strategic priority of the two countries. Modern methods can help overcome the challenges. Integrated Border Management (IBM) – a concept embraced by the European Union (EU) – offers a modern template for coherent and coordinated handling of border affairs. This entails multi-agency cooperation on both sides of the border.

A border coordination mechanism based on IBM system can evolve only through political will, sound military planning and right execution on the border. Four levels of planning and execution are envisaged for PA-BMS as follows:

•           Political Level (PoLvl). This may also be called the decision level. Success is contingent upon the political will exhibited by both sides at this level. Mutual trust and belief in each other's sincerity is imperative to bring the two polities to the table of consensus to take and retake important decisions. Narrowing the communication gap through frequent interactions can be of great value in this regard. When trust at political level would be able to survive the heat of practical situations, it would turn into people's belief in each other's sincerity and seriousness. Pakistan and Afghanistan need to prevent foreign intervention into their affairs. This can happen only if the notion of bilateralism works with trust at the PoLvl.

•           Military Level (MiLvl). This may also be called the planning level. It is the level of interaction between Pakistan Army and Afghan National Army (ANA). The decisions taken at the political level should be evolved into a functional border management strategy at this level.

•           Operational Level (OpLvl). This may also be called the coordination level. It should work at the level of headquarters of formation and forces deployed on the border to include Pakistan Army and Afghan National Army, Frontier Corps Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, and the Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan Border Police (ABP). This level should ensure implementation of the border management strategy and steer the under command units.

•           Border Outpost Level (BoLvl).          This may also be called the execution level. Much of the issues relating to border management can be resolved and decided right at the point of occurrence on the border if the officials on the border outposts of the two countries are aware of the politico-military policies and know as to what they need to do under what circumstances. This level should receive guidelines from the operational level and get back to the same level for clarification, yet without causing delay or disruption to the routine management. It is at this level that various kinds of border violations must be prevented and, if not, at least correctly reported to the superior channels. The violations could be of kinetic nature such as terror attacks or movement of weapons or explosives across the border, or military breaches such as fire or movement across the border. Else, they could be non-kinetic such as the movement of drugs or illegal crossing by the commoners.

Conclusion

Pakistan and Afghanistan are two conjoined twins as articulated by the Afghan President Hamid Karzai in March 2010. They share religion, history, geography, ethnicity, culture, language, border and even sentiments. They share economic prospects, political future and thus the destiny. Pakistan and Afghanistan have been together throughout the history of mankind, and centuries after the Euro-American forces would have left Afghanistan, some of them by December 2014, they would still be together. Thus, it is imperative for both nations to work together for security and stability in the region. Effective management for friendly borders with well regulated human and material flow can contribute a great deal towards to bringing back security on both sides of the Hindu Kush. Bilateralism can provide the best response for all kinds of regional situations and national aspirations, border management being the basis for all.


The writer is a PhD (Peace and Conflict Studies) scholar, author of ‘Human Security of Pakistan’ (published 2013) and co-author of ‘Kashmir: Looking beyond the Peril’ (published 2014).

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