The purpose of this article is to examine the return of walls and fencing and to address the question as to why nation-states require to fence their borders. Also, when globally almost all the states justify fencing their borders to fight cross-border drug trafficking, stop smuggling and illegal immigration, curb terrorism and ensure overall security threats, then why there are reservations over Pakistan–Afghanistan border fencing. Pakistan has serious security concerns and the border fencing is completely in accordance with the established norms of international law and without encroaching into Afghanistan’s territory.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a porous border of 2670 kilometers (1640 miles) that runs through a diverse terrain which facilitates illegal cross-border movement, smuggling activities and terrorism. After Pakistan’s independence, the relations remained strained between the two neighbors over the international border. Though an international border, yet, expediently it is often referred by the Afghanistan government as a demarcation line or Durand Line which was established in 1893 between Afghanistan and British India. Various governments of Afghanistan consider Durand line a disputed border demarcation having no legal sanctity, nevertheless it did not get any international approval and it is internationally recognized as the western border of Pakistan. The Durand Line was accepted as an international border by many Afghan governments in the past. After the third Anglo-Afghan War, in the Treaty of Rawalpindi – as per Article 5 – Britain recognized Afghanistan as an independent state. Under the same Article of the Treaty, Afghanistan, on August 8, 1919, accepted the past agreements of border arrangements with British India and thus as an independent state agreed to recognize Durand Line as the international border. However, despite blaming Pakistan for cross-border movement, Afghanistan has never officially accepted it as an international border which is a clear paradox and duplicity in Afghanistan’s approach towards forging peace with a neighbouring Muslim brotherly nation.
Around the globe, the construction of borders, walls or fence can be traced back to ancient times, However, in the 21st century the number of countries fencing their borders has increased. It is believed that border fencing helps in reducing menaces such as drugs trafficking, illegal immigration, and most importantly terrorism. One can say that for state security, in all aspects, fences are a mean to guarantee protection against the known rival, adversary or aggressor. There are 63 walls/fences around the globe, from the U.S. to Europe to Central Asia to South, South West and South East Asia, and the Middle East.
Experts of international studies argue that after 9/11, the region was hit by a wave of terrorism, the fact however is that Pakistan is paying the cost of its alliance with USA since the late 1970s. From Soviet invasion to its withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan remained the frontline state in the war but both the neighbours were left to fend for themselves when the USA achieved its goal of containing communism in the region. The ensuing civil war in Afghanistan had a deep impact on Pakistan and Pakistani society as a whole and the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in particular. Pakistan saw the consequences of war in Afghanistan in the form of refugee influx, drug trafficking, along with many other social ills. After 9/11, Pakistan once again became the frontline state and a major non-NATO ally, as long as its support was required. The cost of this alliance made Pakistan pay its toll in the form of terrorism, militancy, insurgency, poor law and order, not to mention the colossal human and material loss, yet it was accused and blamed time and again by the U.S. of harboring terrorist elements in its territory. Now, if the U.S. troops withdraw without restoring peace, Afghanistan might once again descend into chaos and the region will face an extreme level of terrorism. The instances of cross-border infiltration have grown in frequency over the years. Like many other countries in the region and around the globe, Pakistan needed to ensure its security and defence from internal as well external threats and today the new norm is fencing the border.
The western alliance and Afghanistan have always accused Pakistan of supporting terrorist groups against Afghanistan. Nonetheless it is a two-way street; Pakistan also blamed Afghanistan of giving space and logistical support to Tehrik-i-Taliban against Pakistan due to incidents of militancy and terrorism. While Afghanistan opposes the fencing, Pakistan, on many occasions, has said that the fence will check the movement of armed militant groups moving between the two countries and cross-border terrorism. It is interesting to note here that some countries in the region and outside are also supporting Afghanistan’s stance regarding border fencing despite the fact that these states have fenced their borders on the pretext of security threats. Infact, the concept of fencing the border has an old history.
Around the globe, the construction of borders, walls or fences can be traced back to ancient times, However, in the 21st century the number of countries fencing their borders has increased. It is believed that border fencing helps in reducing menaces such as drug trafficking, illegal immigration, and most importantly, terrorism. One can say that for state security, in all aspects, fences are a mean to guarantee protection against the known rival, adversary or aggressor. There are 63 walls/fences around the globe, from the U.S. to Europe to Central Asia to the South, South West and South East Asia, and the Middle East.
History is replete with number of states securing their borders with a fence. The great, but mostly unknown, is the Wall of Gorgan, which was built in Northern Iran in the 5th and 6th century under Sasanian dynasty to avoid attacks from the Turks and Hephthalites. Similarly, the great and most famous wall of China was constructed in 7th century BCE to prevent invasions. This did not stop here but continued in subsequent centuries. In 1961, during the Cold War between USA and former Soviet Union, the government of East Germany, under the influence of Soviet Union, constructed a wall along with other security measures to secure any interventions from West Germany which was the area under USA’s influence. North and South Korea are separated by a barbed wire fence, land mines and border security guards. Some other borders or fences are between Malaysia and Thailand, India and Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 2002, the Israeli government constructed the West Bank wall as a buffer between Israel and Palestinian territory and another one along Egypt. There is a laser wall between India and Nepal and another one under construction between India and Bangladesh. Similarly, Saudi Arabia constructed a wall on its border with Iraq and a fence on the border with Yemen. The most debated one currently is of USA fencing the border with Mexico despite having high tech surveillance equipment.
To continue this discussion, one has to examine the post-9/11 era that led to an increase in military spending, securitization of border, sophistication of biometric controls and a rise in the construction of walls and fences. The justification from such states is over defence and protection of their borders, particularly so when there is a history of wars or disputed areas and border between states, for example the Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the past, some of these were termed as Firewalls, such as between China and Iran, Security Walls claimed by Israel, immigration fences of the U.S. and UN Military Buffer Zones between Iraq and Kuwait.
The fall of Berlin Wall and the arrival of a new international setting led to the age of globalization where states seemed permanently destined to be outdated, that is, a world without borders. In this new international order, the state was relegated to secondary importance in international relations, coupled with the disappearance of physical borders, left with little reason to expect the reappearance of the wall. However, after 9/11, borders, walls, and fences made a comeback which were thought to have perished with decolonialization and the disappearance of the bipolar world.1
In this era of risk management, the wall has various purposes, such as protection, pacification, separation, and accompanying security mechanisms are all considered as tools that can work towards that goal. The wall is a sign of the interconnected surveillance processes as the most visible component and the most important functional element of the apparatus.2
Hence, Pakistan’s stance of border fencing can be justified when the blame of terror support is placed on it. It can be argued here that peace in Afghanistan is sine qua non for peace in Pakistan. The erstwhile lawless tribal areas, which became the hub of terrorist groups after 9/11, have been merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province since May 31, 2018 along with the application of the 25th Amendment. The merger, besides mainstreaming the region, has to some extent maintained law and order situation but the issues of cross-border terrorism, weapons and drugs smuggling and other related challenges remain the same. The several military operations broke militant groups’ hold over most of the merged tribal districts but the cross-border infiltration could not be curtailed with various security check posts on the border. As things stand, security in those areas has improved but remains fragile and it is difficult for Pakistan to fight terror perpetrators with a porous border on its west. The international community in general and the USA in particular has alleged Pakistan of supporting terror outfits in Afghanistan. However, despite the allegations, Pakistan was clear about the fence and its benefits to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The fence will put a final end to all border crossings with Afghanistan, from its northern most corner to its south western crossings.
After launching Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014, Pakistan Armed Forces successfully eliminated the bases and hideouts used by terrorists. A few groups managed to flee across the Pak-Afghan border, and it was anticipated that for a lasting peace in the border region and overall in the two countries, a regulated border is a must. Fencing the border and giving depth to this defensive measure through the construction of new military posts and forts was a strategy that was adopted by Pakistan to promote peace and security. From 2003 onwards Pakistan has made numerous efforts like fencing the border at a few selected places (i.e., Angoor Adda Sector), introducing biometric system at Chaman, and putting in place a new checking apparatus at Torkham border. However, ironically the Afghan government vehemently opposed all such measures for controlling the border, but at the same time never hesitated in blaming Pakistan for cross-border movement. Leaving aside all this hatchet, on May 1, 2017 Pakistan once again embarked on this gigantic task for fencing the international border with Afghanistan. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of the Army staff told his commanders and troops to leave no stone unturned in this effort for bringing peace in both the countries.
Pakistan Army is fencing the international border with Afghanistan which stretches across its two western provinces. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the total length of Pak-Afghan border is 1229 kms. So far 792.66 kms fencing of the border has been completed out of the total planned fence which is 823 kms. This indicates that over 95% job has been completed by the day-and-night commitment and hard work done by the soldiers of Pakistan Army. By fencing the border and then guarding its military posts and forts, it is expected that all movement will be regulated though six official crossing points: 1) Torkham (Khyber District); 2) Ghulam Khan (North Waziristan District); 3) Kharlachi (Kurram District); 4) Gavi (Kurram District); 5) Angoor Adda (South Waziristan District); and, 6) Arandu (Chitral District). The monitored, regulated and controlled movement through official crossing points will promote a culture among the dwellers of the border region in both the countries to respect the sanctity of the international border, and a lawful trade, citizens’ movement, narco control, weapons smuggling, and terrorists’ movement etc., are the inbuilt advantages of border fencing. In Balochistan province, total border is 1450 kms, and out of 1400 kms planned fencing, so far 1250 kms fencing of the border has been completed. It will never suffice to appreciate the uncountable sacrifices rendered by officers and soldiers of Pakistan Army to complete such a Herculean task with all hazards of inhospitable terrain, harsh weather and terrorists that never hesitated to attack Pakistani soldiers busy in this noble work for peace.
Pakistan’s efforts and intentions for preventing and ensuring peace by fencing/controlling the border is not only restricted to the Pak-Afghan border, but Pakistan shares the same vision and strategy with its brotherly Islamic country Iran. Out of the total 1100 kms of Pak-Iran border, 909 kms of fencing was planned, and so far 580 kms of fencing work has been completed. It is also expected that both Pakistan and Iran will reap the peace dividends jointly by this singularly conducted mammoth task by the armed forces of Pakistan. Such is the level of commitment and contributions towards ensuring peace with its neighours by Pakistan.
What other proof does the world need from Pakistan? Rather the world must come forward to emplace these barriers to violence and illegality which are in fact harbingers of lasting peace and security.
While many scholars of international affairs are critiques of walls and fences, others debate in favor of fencing and argue that erection of walls or fencing is designed to keep away (and keep away from) the other, from the near abroad. They examine the fence/walls’ sovereignty defining and preserving functions, situating the wall in a broader context and analysing it through the lens of state utilization. Further, they agree that in the post Westphalian world, walls are the ultimate marks of sovereignty for states under pressure from external stresses and their swan song.
The writer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations at University of Peshawar, Pakistan.
E-mail: [email protected]
1. Élisabeth Vallet and Charles-Philippe David, “Introduction: The (Re)Building of the Wall in International Relations,” Journal of Borderlands Studies 27, no. 2 (August 1, 2012): 111–19, https://doi.org/10.1080/08865655.2012.687211.
2. Ibid,. Also see, “30 Border Walls around the World Today | Stacker,” accessed May 29, 2021, https://stacker.com/stories/2451/30-border-walls-around-world-today.
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