Despite objections by Afghanistan, Pakistan has accelerated work on building fence along the Durand Line, the two countries’ border, steeped in history and bitter controversy.
Pakistan argues that fencing the border will stem cross-border movement of militants, a key sticking point in ties between Kabul and Islamabad, and Washington and Islamabad.
President Donald Trump has ratcheted up pressure on Pakistan to take decisive action against militant groups that orchestrate attacks in Afghanistan from Pakistani soil.
Pakistan has been proposing a joint “border management” mechanism for Afghanistan to join to help improve security along the frontier.
But Afghanistan does not seem really eager to take up the Pakistani proposal.
And not many in Afghanistan recognize the British-era line as a formal border.
But Pakistan does, and says if the fencing work went ahead with the same pace most of the border with Afghanistan will be fenced by the end of 2018.
Nauman Zakaria, Pakistani Military
“There will not be an inch of international border that will not be under our control.”
Afghans’ opposition to Durand Line has been long standing.
The line was the result of an agreement in 1893 between Afghanistan’s ruler, Ameer Abdur Rahman, and Mortimer Durand, a British civil during from Britain’s rule over India.
Many Afghans believe that after the end of the British rule over India, the accord between Durand and Rahman has lapsed and that the Pashtun dominated areas in Pakistan should now be united with Afghanistan.
Opponents of the line say it has torn apart families, villages and Pakistan’s “unilateral actions” cannot win over popular support.
Abdul Ghafoor Lewal, Afghan Analyst in Kabul
“There are families who have lands on this (Afghan) side and homes on the other (Pakistani) side and families who have homes on the other (Pakistani) side and land on this (Afghan) side. Mosques, guest houses, graveyards” have been divided.
Pakistani military officials the border with Afghanistan will be monitored with the help of technology and the border security measures will cost US$550 million.
Pakistani officials say the dual border fence will be nine-feet high.
Some ethnic Pashtuns in Pakistan also oppose the fence with Afghanistan.
Fazal Raheem Marwat, a Pashtun educationist:
“These wires, these things cannot separate (Pashtuns). In fact, mountains not even water can separate (Pashtuns) as they say you cannot split water with a stick. This cannot work.”
Pakistan has long running fears that a nationalist government in Kabul will stir up Pashtuns to cede from Pakistan.
And Afghans say Pakistan’s fencing cannot stop that from happening.
Abdul Ghafoor Lewal, Afghan Analyst in Kabul:
“The Berlin Wall was so strongly built but see how easily people tore it down.”
Many Afghans say that Pashtuns should be left to decide fate of the more than 2500-kilometer line.
While Pakistan recognizes Durand Line as an international border, Islamabad finds it hard to find a supporting Afghan voice. On, even the Taliban opposed their Pakistani backers.
And as for many Afghans Durand Line remains “drawn on water” Pakistan is trying to drawn the frontier with wires.
By Munaza Shaheed, Washington