In 2018, the Government of Pakistan unveiled its plans to construct a fence all along the Durand Line. The border, that has been one of the main sources of conflict between both states is approximately 2200 km long and will be fortified with two 9 foot-long fences, set 6 feet apart.
Plans for the fence were initiated in 2005, then reconsidered in 2007 and 2009. However, it was the anticipation of a “terrorism spillover” after the US government confirmed its decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan that finally prompted this decision.
While the decision has been supported by many, it has widely been speculated as an aggressive measure; one that would worsen the relationship Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani himself has gone as far as saying that Pakistan “holds the keys to war” because it harbours numerous terrorist groups, which is an accusation that many have made. However, the War on Terror in combination with measures to fortify borders are all argued to be part of a plan to eradicate terrorism from within our borders and to keep it out.
In an effort to extend a friendly hand and initiate conversation, the present government has expressed that it plans to grant citizenship to the approximately 1.5 million children of Afghan refugees born in Pakistan.
A growing number of countries around the world have taken to fortifying their borders through fences and walls to try to control the flow of goods and people. Scholars at Princeton and Stanford have said that while this strategy is “particularly aggressive”, it almost always implies that “neighbors are not effectively cooperating in managing the border and have inconsistent border management strategies.” Research carried out at Dartmouth and Stanford said that these strategies proved effective in curbing illegal trade and migration.
Pakistan has almost always maintained a neutral stance when it comes to Afghanistan. What brought about his sudden change in foreign policy? Mostly the US government’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, in addition to pressures from China to secure CPEC and its investments as well as the Gulf States who have suffered through repercussions of the war.
Director General Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Asif Ghafoor said in an interview that the fence would make it difficult for terrorists to cross the border. It would therefore prevent cross-border terrorism and the uncontrolled movement of people and goods in the event that the state law and order in Afghanistan worsens after the withdrawal of US troops.
The recent attacks in Loralai, Balochistan both claimed by the TTP are also said to be proof of the ineffectiveness of a border fence. Though, seeing as most of the progress on the fence has been made in KPK, this point is debatable. However, another way of looking at it is that these attacks further validate the need for a fortified and secure border; since there is terrorist activity in the area in the absence of it.
Fortified and secure borders are a surefire way of clarifying the relationship between states. They help device set stances and foreign policies for both sides. A fortified fence at the Pak-Afghan border communicates to the world that Pakistan and its government aim to remain as neutral as possible. Granted that there is merit in mutual interdependence when it comes to combating terrorism, however, the presence of a fence at the Durand line does not necessarily imply that Pakistan is unwilling to cooperate.
Pakistan has played a role in the reconciliation of Afghanistan by convincing the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and insurgents to come to the table and negotiate a ceasefire with the US government. This is because if both parties manage to come to an agreement, it would ultimately benefit Pakistan as well. According to Brigadier Mehmood Shah, former Secretary Security FATA, the only way for Pakistan to remain neutral despite facilitating talks between the Taliban and US government is to secure its borders as a contingency.