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Pakistan announces intentions to build a barrier on its disputed border with Afghanistan

author Friday December 29, 2006 17:23author by Kyla Neilan IMEMC & Agencies Report post

Pakistan announced Tuesday its intention to build a wall of landmines and security fencing along its disputed 2,500km-long border with Afghanistan, in order to curb the flow of militants between the two countries.

Pakistan's Foreign Secretary, Riaz Muhammad Khan, said the wall will be built along the Durand Line, the disputed border established by British colonials in the 1890s which Pakistan recognizes and Afghanistan does not.  The Line cuts through a large community of people from the Pashtun ethnic group who have regularly traveled between the two countries for centuries, and are unlikely to accept the fence, sources reported.  Currently, more than 200,000 people cross the border every day.

The proposal has been met with harsh criticism from many sides, including many Pakistanis.  "One part of a family on one side [of the border] will be stepping over dynamite to see family on the other side," said Afrasiab Khattak, a political analyst from Pakistan. "Don't we have enough gun powder in our area?"

Pakistan's Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao explained that the wall is a response to international criticism that the Pakistani government has not done enough to stop militant groups from using Pakistan as a base to launch attacks in Afghanistan.  "We are this way responding to allegations of support for the Taliban and invoke ways and means to stop militants' movement to and from Afghanistan," he said.

But the biggest critics of Pakistan's security policies, the United States and the Afghan government, as well as analysts within Pakistan, rejected the landmine and fence idea as impractical and counter-productive.  The border "cannot be fenced, it cannot be mined," said Asad Durrani, former chief of the Pakistani Intelligence agency.  "It cannot be covered by observation and fire and if that is not done, they (the fence and mines) do not serve their purpose, they can be breached." 

Afgani President Hamid Karzai railed against the mine and fence idea, considering it a political maneuver by the Pakistani government that in reality condones the militants.  “Mines will not prevent terrorism crossing the border into Afghanistan, or militants who come and kill our people. Laying mines or fencing the border will only separate people and families from each other. Rather than helping, it will cause people difficulty in movement in trade and meeting each other,” he said.  “If we want to prevent terrorism as a whole, forever eradicate them and defeat them then you must remove their sanctuaries, then you must remove the places they are being trained, their sources of finance, equipment and training. That is the best way.”  The proposed border path would cut into territory claimed by Afghanistan.

Moreover, some analysts suggest that deaths from landmines will create more militants.  Ramiyullah Yusufzai, a Pakistani journalist added, "There would be attempts to stop the fence or blow up areas of the fence."

The Durand Line runs through both snow-capped mountains and desert, making any construction on the border very difficult.  Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Khan explained, "While mining can be done expeditiously, fencing will take longer."

The proposed barrier between Pakistan and Afghanistan is reminiscent of the illegal separation wall being built by Israel throughout the West Bank, which also does not follow internationally accepted borders and physically separates communities closely connected through family and trade.  Like the Israeli wall, the Pakistani government is using security to justify the barrier even while analysts consider the wall to be an attempt at annexation of disputed land.

category international | diplomacy | news report
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