Under normal circumstances border management is a serious business for nation states and no one can have any problem with it as every state is supposed to do it as a matter of duty. As a long term measure, no sane person in Pakistan or Afghanistan would have anything to say against it. In fact, during the 2014 Pakistan visit of the Afghan President Dr. Ashraf Ghani, both countries had agreed on opening about fourteen crossing points on the border and had also decided to use them as trade routes. For all practical purposes this was an agreement on border management between the two countries as part of a package deal for normalising relations that also included Pakistani promises for bringing Taliban to the negotiation table and for acting against those who wouldn’t be ready to talk peace. This package deal fell apart as the Taliban refused to take part in peace negotiations while Pakistan did not withdraw her support to them.
Since June this year the apparently harmless term of border management has been misused to justify and camouflage an otherwise unjustifiable Afghan policy in Pakistan. A large scale and systematic campaign of disinformation has been launched to mould public opinion in favor of a deeply flawed policy that has played havoc with peace in both the countries. The lack of knowledge in the public (particularly in the Punjab) about the complicated nature of Pak-Afghan border comes very handy in misguiding the public opinion. The bankrupt nature of the policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan is so thoroughly exposed that it can’t be followed anymore under its original and real name. Hence the need for a new and “legitimate” dressing for it.
By unilaterally sealing off Torkham and Speen Boldak and by tightening Ghulam Khan (North Waziristan) and Angoor Adda (South Waziristan) in a similar fashion, an impression was created that these measures are meant for blocking terrorist movement across the borders. Same policy was adopted on four other lesser known crossing points namely, Arundu (Chitral), Gursal (Bajaur), Nawa Pass (Momand) and Kharlachi in Kurram Agency. But not many people would know that there are at least 262 crossing points on the almost 2400 km long Durand Line. So even if the aforementioned eight crossing points are absolutely managed and controlled it will leave at least 254 crossing points open, which are mostly unmanned. As far as the terrorists are concerned they will still have hundreds of routs to use, at least in the short term.
There are three important dimensions of the present policy of the so-called border management that underlines its dubious nature. One, it is totally unilateral. After all any border can be effectively managed only when it is done bilaterally. But after falling apart of the package deal of 2014, there has been no new initiative from Pakistan to involve the Afghan side in it.
The fact of the matter is that foreign office and civilian government have not much of a role in the formation or execution of this policy so it mainly focuses on military measure and is extremely week on political component for obvious reasons. Two, the abrupt adoption and implementation of this policy in first week of June coincides with the peak of summer military offensive of Taliban. For all practical purposes it serves more for increasing pressure on the beleaguered NUG in Kabul than blocking the movement of terrorists. Particularly unilateral blocking of Torkham and Spinboldak, in violation of the Transit Trade Agreement between the two countries, can also put economic pressure on Kabul. Three, new measures adopted in the name of border management are also accompanied by a policy of pushing refugees out by force. Afghan refugees have faced unprecedented harassment on a very large scale. Thousands of them had to flee in the face of brutal and callous police action, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA where their ghettos were bulldozed. Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, which has been dealing with the affairs of Afghan refugees for many long years, has lost control over the issue and the Interior Ministry has stepped in and unleashed the police, FC, Rangers and other LEAs on the refugees.
It is pretty clear that an enforced repatriation can’t be sustainable at a time when Pakistan based Taliban have expanded their operations throughout Afghanistan. The Afghan government has to deal with q growing number of IDPs because of the ever expanding military conflict. The only practical purpose of this inhuman Pakistani policy towards Afghan refugees can be to add to the chaos in Afghanistan created by Taliban’s war of attrition.
The cumulative effect of the so called border management and refugee bashing and refugee thrashing has led to a huge humanitarian crises on both sides of the Durand Line. I am focussing here on the situation on the Pakistani side. Pakistani hospitals and other centers of basic human facilities have closed their doors on Afghan refugees who have literally become aliens without any legal rights. Afghan refugees, including women and children, have to wait in scorching heat in open skies in places where there are no lavatories or shades. These are sufferings that are not very dissimilar to the ones faced by Palestinians on the Israeli controlled crossing points. It is only natural that the aforementioned humanitarian crises has created a wave of anguish among Pashtuns living in Pakistan. It is particularly so because the ID cards of thousands of Pashtun citizens of Pakistan have also been blocked in Punjab and Sindh and many of them have faced arrests and fleecing by police. All the major political parties based in Pashtun areas have raised their voices against these inhuman policies. Now political parties, both secular and religious, are getting together for opposing the aforementioned policies.
On Thursday evening important political leaders representing different and diverse political parties held a meeting in Islamabad at the residence of JUI Amir Moulana Fazlullah-u-Renman and after detailed deliberations demanded immediate reversal of the current policies towards Afghan refugees and adoption of remedial measures. They decided to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other high state functionaries in a delegation for presenting their demands to them. They are also united in raising it in the parliament. The disassociation of important Pashtun political leaders from the current Afghan policy has exposed the lack of political support for it inside Pakistan. The insistence of Punjabi dominated security establishment of Pakistan on the adventurist Afghan policy is creating new fault lines within Pakistan even if one ignores the disastrous consequences of it in Afghanistan.
Writer: Afrasiab Khattak
The writer is a regular contributor to THE PASHTUN TIMES. He is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets @
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