Pakistan’s ongoing plan to build a fence to prevent cross-border jihadi attacks along most of the porous international boundary it shares with Afghanistan continues to dismay U.S-backed Kabul, which claims the barrier would break up families and friends.
“By the time we are done, inshallah [God willing], we will be very sure of one thing: that nobody can cross this place,” an unnamed army officer in command of South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the border fence, which Islamabad said it began constructing in March.
Despite Islamabad’s border security measures, U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration maintain that Pakistan is providing sanctuary to jihadists who often cross the border into Afghanistan to maim and kill American troops.
Pakistan is betting that a pair of nine-foot chain-link fences topped with barbed wire will stop incursions by Islamist militants from Afghanistan, which opposes Islamabad’s plans for a barrier along the disputed frontier.
Pakistan plans to fence up most of the 2,500 km (1,500 mile) frontier despite Kabul’s protests that the barrier would divide families and friends along the Pashtun tribal belt straddling the colonial-era Durand Line drawn up by the British in 1893.
Deadly tensions between the two neighboring countries, which often accuse one another of backing terrorism, have been simmering for months over Islamabad’s desire to construct a wall along the 1,500-mile-long border, which is nearly the size of the boundary that divides Texas and Mexico.
In May, the Pakistani military claimed it had killed more than 50 Afghan soldiers and wounded nearly 100 over a couple of days in the Baluchistan region that straddles the border, prompting Deutsche Welle (DW) to publish an article headlined, “Worst border clashes in years: Are Afghanistan and Pakistan at war?”
Afghanistan quickly denied the allegation, claiming only the Pakistani military only killed three Afghans, including one civilian.
“We are not happy for their losses but we were forced to retaliate,” Maj. Gen. Nadim Ahmad, head of Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps, reportedly told reporters in May, noting that two of his soldiers were killed and nine wounded during the confrontation.
The wall will create “more hatred and resentment” between the two countries, Gulab Mangal, the governor of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, told Reuters this week.
“The fence will definitely create a lot of trouble for the people along the border on both sides but no wall or fence can separate these tribes,” he added. “I urge the tribes to stand against this action.”
Most U.S. and Afghan casualties have occurred in territory near or at the border, which is home to the majority of jihadi bastions in the region.
According to the U.S. military, the Afghanistan-Pakistan area is home to the highest concentration of terrorist groups in the world.
Voice of America (VOA) reports:
[Pakistani] military officials say they have thus far fenced off more than 40 kilometers [about 25 miles] of what is considered as most critical and vulnerable to militant infiltration.
Strict border controls have been introduced at the two main border crossings of Torkham and Chaman to document identities of daily crossers.
In March, Najib Danish, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said that Afghanistan would not stand idly by if Pakistan moves forward with its plan to build a border barrier.
“Building fences or any construction is not acceptable for us and we won’t allow anyone to do it,” he said, echoing other officials from the Ghani administration.
Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the chief of Pakistan’s army, has referred to the volatile tribal regions along the Af-Pak border as “high-threat zones,” adding that both countries would benefit from a barrier.
The Pakistani military has reportedly placed the estimated cost of constructing the fence, which would include 750 border forts along with high-tech surveillance systems, at $532 million.
In turn, Kabul claims Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban.
While the Afghan Taliban focuses on attacking U.S. and local troops in Afghanistan, TTP’s primary goal is overthrowing the Pakistani government.
Both groups are led by different people and consider themselves to be two distinct organizations.