By Syed Qamar Rizvi.
Pakistan has recently decided to seal the 1800 km Pak –Afghan border at significant points owing to the worst situation hemmed in by the cross-border terrorism. 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 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.
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
There have been ebbs and flows in Pak-Afghan military and political relations.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. 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 was a positive 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. These meetings have been respectively scheduled during the years 2015-16.
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 during the month of Feb.2017, as Pakistan Army Chief Gen.Qamar Bajwa affirmed on promoting bilateral security ties with Kabul. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Friday(Feb-17) also phoned US General John Nicholson, Resolute Support Mission (RSM) Commander in Afghanistan, and expressed his concerns over continued acts of terrorism in Pakistan with impunity from Afghanistan, ISPR DG Major General Asif Ghafoor said in a tweet.
The Ashraf-Ghani unity government: New Challenges
‘’This change in Kabul’s Pakistan policy sparked enormous reactions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser and top representatives at the Heart of Asia Conference, slammed Ghani’s remarks as “baseless accusations.” He said, “It is simplistic to blame only one country for the recent upsurge in violence. We need to have an objective and holistic view.” When Aziz returned home, he told reporters in Islamabad that “Ashraf Ghani’s statement was meant to please India.” He added, “India’s efforts to divide us [Pakistan and Afghanistan] will not go very far.”
Reactions in Kabul, however, were mostly positive. The Pakistani reaction can be clearly understood by a look into Pakistani print and electronic Urdu and English media, where Ghani’s snub was covered widely initially and then vanished from headlines as media turned their attention to news of singer-turned-preacher Junaid Jamshid’s death in an airplane crash.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Afghan, Indian, and Pakistani foreign policies regarding each other, they do not look through the prisms of bilateral relations. There is always a triangle, which deeply influences their policies. Pakistan’s Afghan policy is very much India-centric; Indian policy in Afghanistan is heavily influenced by the desire for a security and psychological advantage over Pakistan. Meanwhile, Kabul uses the Pakistan-India cards in a manner similar to Afghan leaders balancing Czarist Russia and British India during the “Great Game.” From the Cold War through modern-day, Kabul has varied in its closeness to India and Pakistan, with gains by one side coming at the expense of the other.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the Border Management
‘’Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been an important venture (started by former army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif) 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.’’
Operation Raddul Fasad
“THE armed forces under the command of Gen Qamar Bajwa, on Wednesday, launched a country-wide crackdown code named ‘Raddul Fasad’ (Elimination of Mischief) against terrorists and extremists. The operation, initiated in the backdrop of latest wave of terrorism, envisages involvement of all wings of armed forces, paramilitary organisations, civilian law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies. It has four main elements — operation in Punjab by Rangers; continuation of operations in other parts of the country; border management and de-weaponisation and explosive control.
As the operation is being led by armed forces, which have track record of delivering, there are reasons to believe that it would prove to be a remarkable success and lead to complete elimination of terrorists and hard-core criminals. There should be no mercy against those associated, in any way, with terrorism and serious crimes as both our religion and laws of the land envisage no leniency for such elements. Islam ordains strict punishment for those indulging in ‘Fasad fil Ardh’ (spreading mischief in the land)’’.
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.
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. 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 not skepticism is the order to restore strategic peace in the region. It must be hoped that through viable diplomatic discourse– between Kabul-Islamabad-Beijing-Moscow-Tehran– can provide the best response for all kinds of conflicting regional situations and national aspirations. Yet the border management is the core to resettle the underlining misunderstandings and complexities. But this hopeful scenario, is only possible via good will diplomacy between Kabul and Islamabad- a driving and inevitable imperative of present times.