Since the announcement in 2005, Pakistan has developed plans and made efforts toward building an approximate 1,500 mile fence running along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This is an effort to hinder the Taliban’s freedom of maneuver between the countries, as well as drug runners.
Pakistan aims to spend approximately $483 million in constructing the fence line, which will mostly be chain-link alongside concertina wire running on top; guards are also to be posted more frequently along the new fence. In addition, Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani said that an “11-foot deep and 14-foot wide ditch will be dug along the entire stretch of the border.”
Pakistani National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua expressed a desire for the United States, under the Trump administration, to help pay for the building of the fence, given the hefty yearly expenses the U.S. already spends in Afghanistan. He pointed out that a few hundred million dollars will pay dividends if the fence functions as intended, considering the billions spent every year there.
This border has often been described as the most dangerous border in the world.
There has been some controversy regarding these efforts, especially with Afghanistan. As far as they are concerned, the area is more of a frontier and they don’t recognize the “Durand line,” the borderline recognized by Pakistan. Their concerns primarily lie in the fact that the line splits tribal Pashtun land in half — the local Pashtuns have historically just ignored the “border” and traveled freely throughout their homeland as they always have. After the construction of this fence, this will no longer be possible.
The Pasthun nationalist political party in Pakistan, the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, had some protests to make clear. The Central Secretary General Akram Shah said that, “I’ve heard that the Pakistan Army is digging a ditch along the border. We maintained silence on the project because we believe it is a useless exercise. The Afghans are one nation which could not be divided with such ditches.” Still, some are worried that once unified tribes will now be forced to live on either side of the fence.
The Durand line is the 1,510 mile borderline that was drawn in 1896 by the British. It was slightly modified in 1919, but modern Afghanistan has never recognized it as a true border. In 2017, Hamid Karzai said that, “we remind the Government of Pakistan that Afghanistan hasn’t and will not recognize the Durand line.”
The Taliban have taken advantage of this freedom of movement, which has very seriously damaged NATO operations in Afghanistan. They do this for several reasons:
- There are places in Pakistan where the upper echelons of the Taliban can live in relative safety, especially when compared to places in Afghanistan. For the most part, the U.S. can’t touch them in Pakistan, so they can recruit, train and carry out their campaigns from their bases of operation in western Pakistan.
- The Taliban are very poorly equipped, and slow down combat operations in the winter. Fighting in sub-freezing temperatures is exponentially more difficult for the Taliban than it is for American forces who are properly equipped. With Pakistan as a tactical option, they are allowed to fall back and wait out the winter as their subordinates hold down the fort until spring.
- The border of Pakistan and Afghanistan is a marker of safety for fleeing Taliban, or those who have been openly targeted and are on the run. If they can make it to Pakistan, they can enjoy a much higher level of safety than they would find in Afghanistan. Of course, Osama Bin Laden tried this and it didn’t work out so well, but there is a reason why he sought refuge in Pakistan in the first place.
These are just a few of the many advantages the Taliban enjoys from the open borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Whether a fence-line like this will hinder Taliban movement is yet to be seen.
Featured image: Pakistani soldiers stand guard at newly erected fence between Pakistan and Afghanistan at Angore Adda, Pakistan, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. | AP Photo/Mohammad Yousaf