National and International Issues

Pakistan’s Efforts to Maintain Peace on Its Side of the Pak-Afghan International Border

Pakistan had neglected its Western borders because of no real threat from Afghanistan and Iran after its independence for many decades. However, the arrival of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan in 1979 brought those Western borders into sharp focus. The result was raising of two Corps i.e., 11 and 12 Corps in Peshawar and Quetta respectively. The arrival of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan rang bells amongst the policy planners regarding the Western borders again. Due to lack of attention and proper law and order mechanism, these border areas represented wilderness and people did not want to touch them due to the political sensitivities of these areas and its people from one angle or the other.

The presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan brought a lot of damage to Pakistan but it did some good as well. The U.S. presence was taken advantage of by the Government of Pakistan and when the Afghan vested interest groups were whispering into the U.S. forces’ ears that all these problems were emanating from Pakistan’s side, Pakistan pointed out that the border was not properly demarcated and delineated at places, therefore they suggested why not have it demarcated and delineated. Pakistan promptly agreed; the border which had been left undemarcated and undelineated at places over the years was finally demarcated to the last inch without much difficulties. About five years ago, there were a series of exhaustive studies conducted to arrive at a well thought out policy for Afghanistan. The consensus in these studies was that there should be a policy of noninterference in the internal affairs. Ironically a few scandalous people across the border are good at attaching meanings of their choice against the good intentions of Pakistan to please their clienteles, whether it is the U.S., India or both. Therefore, they must be ignored and avoided at all costs. The fabricated stories of ‘fifth province’ and ‘strategic depth’ are still very fresh in our minds. They do this to attract attention. Superpowers with enormous resources have failed to change the attitude of these people and Pakistan has scarce resources just sufficient for its own people. So, Pakistan’s first choice and policy is for noninterference in Afghanistan and that all attention is to be paid to strengthening the Pak-Afghan border. Keeping in view the porous nature of this border, it was thought that physical infrastructures like barbed wire fences would have to be erected at places to make the border impregnable. Afghan nationals, like others, should visit Pakistan on visas only and this border should be respected as an International Border because it is an International Border, and any other interpretation would be detrimental to Pakistan's security interests. There was a clause in the erstwhile Durand Line Agreement that the cultural and social values of people living on both sides of the border should be respected. This was good enough but how could it be that this clause meant that people on both sides of the border could cross it at will and visit each other without any permission or a visa. Pakistan and Afghanistan are two sovereign states with attendant responsibilities and obligations towards the international community. The overall result of this policy was that this border and surrounding areas had become dens for smugglers, gun runners, and drug runners, both from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Antisocial and anti-state elements had roamed freely in these areas with an apologetic government writ. Whenever it was reminded of these anomalies, the people at the helm of affairs would frown and say that these were sensitive affairs that must be avoided and complications between the two governments need not to be created. This clause and its wrong interpretation has been misused to such an extent that known Afghans – and in certain cases known drug smugglers – had been members of Pakistani society and national bodies in the past. All such lines drawn on maps and converted into International Borders in the world always divide people of the same communities with the same culture and social values. They, over a period of time, start respecting these lines as International Borders. For durable peace, Afghans must never forget this important factor and must take all steps to keep guarding it. 
The second point of consensus is that the law and order situation along the border will need a complete revamp. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government had been studying a system of administration in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) other than the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). These studies recommended complete abrogation of the FCR and recommended an extension of Pakistan's laws into the Tribal Areas. This required some constitutional amendments as well, therefore, some quarters with their propaganda brigades raised hue and cry but the government was determined and went ahead with the required changes. This not only improved the law and order in the border areas but helped in reducing foreign interference in the border areas in the long term. These arrangements have resulted in the creation of seven additional districts which are called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Merged Districts (KPMD); old FATA Agencies are now known as Khyber District and Mohmand District etc.
To promote and strengthen peace, one important recommendation is that Pakistan should make all efforts to neutralize Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that is sitting across the border, trying to spread terrorism into Pakistan with finances provided by foreign countries through their networks. 
These preparations and measures along with the International Border conceived five years ago answer basic questions of sovereignty and government controls in consonance with international protocols and are well on their way to address the shortfall of defense and security on this Western border. This was a quite comprehensive and future oriented policy. Barbed wire obstacles have almost been completed and border crossings have been regulated through manning and checking. The FCR has been abrogated and normal laws of Pakistan have been extended to the entire tribal belt. Old Khasadari system has been uprooted replacing it with normal police functions performed through police stations. Courts have been or are being established. IBOs have almost eliminated Taliban's network in the country. Reforms in erstwhile FATA have been implemented and all these measures have improved security along the Pak-Afghan International Border. 
In a separate move, Frontier Corps (FC) in KP and Balochistan has been reorganized to be able to man the Western borders in the absence of regular Armed Forces. Two FC Headquarters, FC North and FC South in KP and Balochistan, have been created for the articulation of Command, and Sector Headquarters have been converted into Brigade Headquarters. Large scale raising is on to make up for the deficiency of troops. Regular Armed Forces have been discharged from the region except from Waziristan. These preparations suit well with those required for the protection of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which mostly runs through Balochistan. These arrangements will ensure a peaceful environment along the Western border. All forces inimical to Pakistan have been bewildered by these preparations. They have started a propaganda war against Pakistan by creating new ethnic rights movements for propaganda against the state of Pakistan on similar lines that they did in Libya and Egypt. The people of KP joined Pakistan through a referendum in 1947 and old elements – propagating their Lar and Bar slogans – were thoroughly defeated but again these have been prompted to echo on Pakistan’s political milieu. They want to confuse people but the people of KP are quite politically aware and do not fall for such gimmicks. The Government of Pakistan has taken concrete steps to ensure a peaceful environment along the Western border which would come in handy after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan and subsequent uncertainty in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, our brothers across the border have not been able to form a well-organized state, lacking in long term stable state structures. Therefore, people make their own groups like mafiosos to operate across the international borders. These people do not cross the northern borders into Central Asian Republics (CARs) because CARs have a firm control over their borders and punish the violators heavily besides the fact that people there have different physical features. 
Pashto speaking people are easily identified because they have different physical features than Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turks, Aimaqs and others living in those areas. As opposed to this, the Southern border with Pakistan was soft and porous. They resemble the Pakistani population, being ethnically the same on both sides of the border. Beside the writ of state on Pakistan’s side executed through the tribes and their Maliks, Army and police in the past could not enter their areas without their concurrence. These areas in the immediate vicinity of an International Border definitely needed a revamp of laws pertaining to border control which have been achieved through these far-reaching reforms.
These actions and reforms were conceived at a time when NATO forces were still maintaining stability in Afghanistan. However, in the present situation, as U.S. and NATO troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, people are visualizing various scenarios for the country and its impact and fallout into Pakistan. With these actions and reforms being carried out over the last five years, Pakistan stands a better chance to withstand the fallout from Afghanistan’s situation. Afghanistan is a landlocked country and needs Pakistan at all times for conducting their trade etc. with other countries. Besides, they are also dependent on the Pakistani market for their food and other daily use items. We should be kind to them but cannot ignore our security and bad effects on our society. We are brotherly neighbors, and join hands for a lasting peace in the region.

The writer is a retired Brigadier who has also served as Secretary Home and Tribal Affairs KP and Secretary FATA. He is an eminent Afghan and tribal affairs expert besides being a defence analyst who regularly contributes in national and international media.
E-mail: [email protected] 
Twitter: @brigmahmoodshah


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