pak/afghan border fence yoyos lives

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For generations, families on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border worked together to till the fields of wheat, corn and rice that spread across the rugged plains.

With no physical boundary between the countries, the families joined forces every year to desilt the canal that irrigated the lands. They shared not only ethnic and blood bonds, but also the harvests from the fertile soil.

But a year and a half ago, the cross-border farming came to a stop. The Pakistani army began erecting a chain-link fence topped with coils of razor wire.

Syed Gul, a Pakistani farmer who owns 20 acres that straddle both sides near the Pakistani town of Kharlachi, cannot access the Afghan side, and Pakistani soldiers have told him not even to approach the land that lies inside Pakistan because getting too close to the fence would constitute a security breach.

“The land has been made barren since the government fenced the border,” said Gul, 55.

The barrier is part of the Pakistani government’s response to long-standing criticisms that it has failed to control the movement of militants across the porous border.

Its border management plan, launched in 2017, calls for a divider along all 1,600 miles of the frontier, with backing by closed-circuit television cameras and drone footage, along with hundreds of checkpoints. The army said in January that about 560 miles of fence had been completed at a cost of about $460 million.

The region, which consists of 10,400 square miles of tribal land, was once considered a haven for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant outfits. Some 3 million civilians have been displaced there over the past decade.

The area has been relatively calm since the army launched an offensive beginning in 2014 that it said cleared out the insurgents.

Islamabad says the fencing will disrupt militants plotting terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But in an impoverished and undeveloped region, where farming and illicit cross-border trade were among the only sources of income, the fence has upended lives.

Gul’s Pashtun ethnic group has seen both sides of the border as its homeland for centuries. Pashtuns moved freely across it during the British colonial era, even after the 1893 Durand Line agreement formally demarcated the boundary.

“We never considered it a border between two countries,” Gul said. “People did not seek verbal permission from the officials patrolling the border when they needed to work in their fields on the Afghanistan side.”

Pakistanis from certain tribes living along the border once needed only a “red pass” issued by the Pakistani tribal affairs department in the city of Peshawar that allowed unlimited movement back and forth across the border. The pass was gradually withdrawn in the 1970s and 1980s, but since then most Pakistanis crossed into Afghanistan without visas.

“I got on the bus with my friends in Peshawar and went to Kabul by bus to watch Indian movies in the cinema,” recalled Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, a 65-year-old trader in Peshawar.

The fence has cut off thousands of families who share the same culture, traditions, language, religion and land. Many people in Pakistan’s tribal region sold their lands inside Afghanistan when the border management plan was introduced.

“We sold 100 acres of land in Paktika” — a border province in eastern Afghanistan — “at a throwaway price,” said Dilawar Wazir, a resident of Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal district.

Official trade between the two countries has also fallen, harming Afghanistan’s landlocked and war-battered economy. Pakistani exports to Afghanistan, which amounted to $2.6 billion in 2010-11, fell to $1.4 billion last year, according to government statistics.

Ibrahim Shinwari, a small businessman living in the Khyber tribal district, said Pakistan’s border plan has left 2,500 people jobless in the border town of Torkham, formerly a major transit terminal for goods between the two countries that was also used by U.S.-led international forces to bring supplies into Afghanistan.

Six out of nine restaurants in Torkham have closed, he said, and the daily flow of vehicles crossing in and out of Afghanistan has slowed from the thousands to the hundreds.

“No more is the place buzzing with economic activity as it once did,” Shinwari said. “All that hustle and bustle has died down into economic depression.”

Azmat Hayat, former director of the Area Study Center at the University of Peshawar, said that before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the border was ignored.

“The Durand Line is a reality because of the changing geostrategic situation in the region,” Hayat said.

Traditions are also dying, with families on either side of the border unable to celebrate festivals together or visit the houses of sick or deceased relatives on the other side to offer condolences.

“It has brought an end to family relations,” said Nadir Manan, a Pakistani who said he couldn’t attend the recent wedding of his niece in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand, called the fencing “disastrous” and said it violated more than a century’s worth of agreements between the countries to allow free movement, particularly of families with historical ties to the land.

“The government cannot stop cross-border movement of terrorists by erecting the fence,” Mohmand said. “It just cuts off families and will cause acrimony between the two countries.”

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https://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-pakistan-afghanistan-border-wall-20190527-story.html

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan%E2%80%93Pakistan_barrier

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pakistan finishing border fence

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press trust of india – islamabad

business standard

january 28, 2019 (5 months ago)

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The Pakistan Army has said that the fencing of a substantial portion of the over 2,600-km-long Afghan border has been completed and the rest will be finished by next year to check the movement of terrorists.

Pakistan has spent billions of rupees for putting fence on the porous border.

Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said that the fencing of the entire border will be completed next year with the cost of about Rs 70 billion, Radio Pakistan reported.

Gafoor said that of the total 2,611 km, fencing of 900 km has been completed.

He said besides fencing, the project also includes gadgets and surveillance equipment to keep strict vigilance on illicit movement from across the border.

“The fence has amply helped to check the movement of terrorists from across the border and it would further assist after completion of the project,” Ghafoor said in an interaction with a group of media during a visit to border tribal district of North Waziristan

Media representatives visited Ghulam Khan, Miranshah and other parts of North Waziristan for the first time after the military operations.

He said the fence had helped check the movement of terrorists from across the border and the situation would further improve after the completion of the project.

Giving a break-up, Gafoor said that about 1,200km of the total 2,600km border with Afghanistan was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the rest is in Balochistan province.

The work on the erection of about 1200 km chunk, the most sensitive portion out of the total 2,600km border with the war-torn country, had commenced last year.

The fence has made it difficult for terrorists to cross the border. It will stop

cross-border terrorism and uncontrolled movement of the people even if the law and order situation gets worst again in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops, The News International reported.

In December, President Donald Trump decided to pull a significant number of American troops from Afghanistan.

Earlier, briefing the media representatives at Corps Headquarters Peshawar, Commander 11 Corps Lt Gen Shaheen said after the end of war in the area, the troops are now in the process of consolidation.

He said ninety five per cent work of resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons has already been accomplished.

He said following the operation against militants, there is no “No Go Area” in the tribal region.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/pak-to-complete-fencing-of-2-600-km-long-afghan-border-by-next-year-119012800498_1.html

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russia wants to help too

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by Rahimullah Yusufzai

Arab News

June 9, 2019

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Russia hosted the second intra-Afghan meeting in less than four months as it continues to seek a role as a credible mediator for ending the Afghan conflict.

The first meeting, which brought together Taliban leaders and Afghan opposition politicians, was held in Moscow in February. It was a landmark event because the commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue is considered essential for national reconciliation.

The second intra-Afghan dialogue organized on May 28-29 was a repeat of the previous one, but with a crucial difference. It was the first time Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban deputy leader and head of the movement’s political commission in Qatar, came face to face with prominent Afghan politicians, including Hamid Karzai, Hanif Atmar, Ata Mohammad Noor, Younas Qanooni and Mohammad Mohaqiq, following his release last October after spending eight years in Pakistani custody. It was also his first visit to Russia, which has used its growing contacts within the Taliban to step up its own diplomatic initiative for ending the Afghan war.

Moscow timed the intra-Afghan conference with the 100th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Russia. This is a remarkable turnaround in the relations between the two countries as the invasion of Afghanistan by the erstwhile USSR in December 1979 to prop up a struggling Afghan communist regime had fueled a fierce war of resistance until 1989.

The Taliban took home happy memories from the first intra-Afghan conference in Moscow as the joint declaration issued on the occasion endorsed major Taliban demands. It called for the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan, the release of Taliban prisoners and the removal of Taliban leaders’ names from the UN Security Council blacklist.

The second intra-Afghan meeting in Moscow, however, didn’t reach any agreement, and caused disappointment as Afghan politicians unsuccessfully pushed the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire. As some delegates reported, the two sides worked on a 12-article joint statement, but disagreement about the cease-fire caused them to merely issue a short press release. 

The statement said both sides discussed important issues linked with the destiny of the Afghan people including the continuation of intra-Afghan talks, cease-fire, release of prisoners and women’s rights, among others. Without elaborating, it noted that some progress had been made on a number of issues, but no agreement was made “because reaching agreements needed more discussions.” 

So the discussions will continue in the next round of intra-Afghan talks likely to be held in Qatar. An earlier plan to convene a broader intra-Afghan conference in Qatar involving representatives of the Afghan government didn’t materialize as the Taliban objected to the large size of the delegation coming from Kabul. The Taliban also did not want the Afghan government to play the lead role in finalizing a list of 250 delegates to attend the Doha meeting. Besides, they had imposed the condition that all participants, including Afghan government officials, would participate in their personal capacity. 

Though Russia has twice managed to hold an intra-Afghan dialogue in Moscow, the process was incomplete due to the absence of the internationally recognized Afghan government. 

Despite facing isolation at home due to growing internal opposition and abroad on account of his government’s non-representation in the Taliban-US talks in Doha and intra-Afghan meetings in Moscow, President Ashraf Ghani made the point that only his elected government had the mandate to make decisions about the peace process and Afghanistan’s future. 

It cannot be kept out forever, even though the twice delayed presidential election, now due on Sept. 28, has created uncertainty about who will eventually represent the government in the peace process. 

Russia has an abiding interest in Afghanistan due to its regional proximity. As former Afghan president Karzai noted, relations between the two countries are among the oldest and most important.

Though the Taliban are officially a terrorist organization in Russia, that didn’t stop Moscow from engaging with the group and inviting its leaders to meetings in a bid to make itself relevant to the Afghan peace process. 

The US also made an effort in April to engage its rivals, Russia and China, to reach a consensus on efforts to end the Afghan conflict. But global politics and regional rivalries could pose problems as the US, Russia and China, as well as Pakistan, Iran and India, vie for influence in determining Afghanistan’s future.

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Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior political and security analyst in Pakistan. He was the first to interview Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1998.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view.
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