Fence On Afghan-Pakistan Border Nears Completion: What Does This Mean For International Relations?

The Durand Line, drawn by the British in 1893, spans approximately 1,600 miles. This is the border that supposedly separates Pakistan from Afghanistan. To help it fulfil this purpose, Pakistani authorities ordered that a razor wire-encasing parallel mesh fence be built on top of it. Now, four years down the line, the last of that fence’s spiky coils are close to being unfurled.

As an effort to curb terrorism-related incidents, this barricade already seems to be proving effective. Attacks by militants from the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehrik-i-Taliban, dropped from 352 in 2014 to just 82 in 2019. However, Afghan-Pakistan relations have soured, igniting further clashes between the two sides. Alongside this, tribes have been segregated, and refugees have been sectioned off from their homes.

The Pakistani military has declined to comment on how permanent they believe the fence to be. But their army media unit, called Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), revealed last week that “about 83 per cent” of the fence now stretches across their western frontier, and that hundreds of outposts have been set up to keep it under constant surveillance. This operation is costing them around $500 million. And the ground that the fence covers makes it especially steep – in more ways than one. A senior Pakistani security official, who wanted to remain anonymous, admitted, “It’s a herculean task because of the terrain up there.” With rockfalls, avalanches, and landslides aplenty, the construction is being attacked by the very mountainsides it passes through.

But that is not the only damage being dealt. Afghan militants have targeted Pakistani groups guarding the fence; some militants have even released footage of themselves ripping sections of fencing away. Many of those with Afghan ties see the barricade as a power grab by Pakistan, which, having gained independence from Britain in 1947, regards the Durand Line as part of its territory. Afghanistan has long disputed this, and the building of a border barrier will only serve to inflate the partisanship between the two nations.

There are social and cultural repercussions, as well. Pashtun tribes, who have historically disregarded the divide between Pakistan and Afghanistan to engage in trade and commerce, have been cut off. So have the tens of thousands of internally displaced people, from everyone and everything that they once knew, after escaping from the conflicts raised by Pakistan’s campaign against the Taliban in 2014.

To make matters worse, there has been a growing number of reports suggesting that Pakistani Taliban members have found a way to infiltrate the fence. Elizabeth Threlkeld, an American diplomat in the border city of Peshawar up until 2016, declared, “Many of those determined to cross, including militants and local residents whose livelihoods depend on smuggling, will find a way. The greater impact of the fence will instead be on communities spanning the border, who will lose the ability to cross freely to visit family or do business.” While the barricade and its forts did initially help to push terrorists away from Pakistan and into Afghanistan, these same terrorists are returning for revenge. Meanwhile, the relations between these two countries have become even more complex.

Many are relieved that Donald Trump’s vision of a wall crumbled with Joe Biden’s electoral victory last month. Compromising interhuman relations in the name of patriotism does not carry quite so much appeal in 2020 as it did four years ago. It should be no different in Southern Asia. This kind of patriotism is more destructive than it is peaceful.

Zachary Liew