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The recent incident at the Pak-Afghan border has once again brought the issue of Durand Line in the media. Reportedly, some local Afghan Taliban dismantled the border fence that had been installed by Pakistan. The fence was erected in response to cross-border infiltration and repeated attacks by militants, based in Afghanistan and also to manage undesired/ illegal border crossings.

The Government of Pakistan raised the issue with the interim government in Kabul to restrain its officials, posted at the Pak-Afghan border, from damaging and/or dismantling the fence. Sohail Shaheen, Kabul’s designate representative to the United Nations, downplayed the incident as a localized one, with no instruction or authorization from the capital, and assured that an inquiry would be conducted to identify and punish the perpetrators. Likewise, Defense Minister Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob visited the area to defuse the situation. He maintained that ‘the issue has been quietly and calmly settled’.

Although the Pak-Afghan border is a de jure international border, acknowledged by the international community, successive Afghan governments, for their domestic socio-political interest, still maintain that it is an unresolved issue between the two states. Historically, the agreement was made between the erstwhile Governments of British India and Afghanistan. The then representative of British India, Sir Mortimer Durand and former ruler of Afghanistan, Amir Abdur Rehman, signed the ‘Durand Line Agreement’ on 12 November 1893 that identified and demarcated the border between the two states. Pashtuns in Afghanistan contend that since the agreement was signed between the State of Afghanistan and then-British India, it stands dissolved since the latter no longer exists. From the international as well as Pakistan’s perspective, the Pak-Afghan border is a settled issue and recognized under prevalent International Law. The fence has been erected on universally accepted border line to regulate cross-border movement and stop the illegal infiltration of terrorists from Afghanistan into Pakistan. The fence is also curtailing the illegal flow of goods both ways and streamlined bilateral trade.

The incident in late December 2021 was locally instigated with no state-level involvement. Such incidents happen on all borders, as on the Indo-Pak border or Indo-Bangladeshi border or Indo-Myanmar border as well. The recent skirmish at the Pak-Afghan border was no exception.

The Indian media, while spreading disinformation, created unnecessary hype, which is in line with its insidious anti-Pakistan hybrid agenda. The incident was reported as something extraordinary and there was continuous cacophony that serious tensions were now arising between Kabul and Islamabad on the issue of border fencing, even though both governments denied this. The disinformation reached a level where some Indian media outlets started linking the Durand Line to the dead issue of ‘Pashtunistan.’ To generate further controversy, various news reports regarding the legal status of Durand Line, are being given special coverage in Indian print media.

This is not the first time that Indian media has tried to falsify facts. It has been continuously and religiously pursuing the nefarious agenda of the Modi-led Hindu extremist government to malign Pakistan by projecting a negative image through controversial news. For instance, the Taliban takeover of Kabul was referred to as ‘Pakistani invasion with an Afghan face’. However, the fact remains that Pakistan has always played a constructive role vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Pakistan has consistently been calling for an ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-owned solution’ to the long-standing problems of the country. Similarly, against the backdrop of a humanitarian crisis post-US/NATO withdrawal, despite its own economic difficulties, Pakistan has sent more than 50, 000 metric tonnes of wheat, medical and other supplies through official and unofficial channels. At the diplomatic level, Pakistan also hosted OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) emergency meeting in Islamabad on 19 December 2021, to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, in front of the global community. The special emergency OIC meeting was also attended by the designated representatives of global community including United Nations, International Financial Institutions and some non-member states including the US, UK, France, China, Russia, Germany, Italy and Japan. As an outcome of Pakistan’s sincere efforts, some of the key Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia pledged much-needed supplies to Afghanistan. Deeply concerned by this impending calamity, Pakistan was willing to allow even India to send wheat and other necessary aid to Afghanistan through its land route. India, however, made that offer controversial by putting irrelevant conditionalities.

While considering the question of routes for legal trade and transit convenience between both countries, besides Torkham and Chaman border crossings, there are at least 18 motorable crossings on the Pak-Afghan border. While border fencing is the right step to curb cross-border illegal movement, certain humanitarian issues need to be addressed. First, people living in the vicinity of the border (mainly belong to the same tribe and have close family ties), and before the fence, used to visit each other with relative ease to attend funerals and weddings. This is not possible now. Similarly, people from the bordering areas of Afghanistan used to visit Pakistani healthcare centres for better treatment, which has also become difficult. Second, local cross-border trade was a daily routine – people of the nearby towns on both sides of the border used to visit local markets across the border with little to no checks. Wage labourers also used to cross the border daily and go back at the end of the day; now, with the fence in place, random cross-border movement is impossible.

The current situation calls for official level introspection and dialogue on both sides for managed but relatively relaxed movement of personnel for family emergencies, healthcare, and market access. Keeping the local traditions, relationships and other complexities in mind, the Government of Pakistan may consider taking steps to facilitate cross-border movement of local residents, traders, daily wage labourers. In this regard, increasing the number of pedestrian border crossings at various points along the border and facilitated access to border markets for local traders, with essential security precautions, would be a step in the right direction.

Zuhaib Anwar is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com.

Image source: Rashid, Qaisar. (2022). Fencing the Durand Line. Pakistan Today. Retrieved 10 February 2022, from https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2022/01/15/fencing-the-durand-line/

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