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The Killid Group

Razor Wire, Thorny Issue

Monday, 08 February 2010 12:37

Razor Wire, Thorny Issue

Pakistan has announced that it would like to lay razor wire across the Durand Line, in an attempt to formalize what has been a porous and heavily trafficked line in the sand. The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs says they have not been informed.

Even before Afghanistan plunged into the on-again-off-again conflict of the last thirty years, the Durand Line was a point of contention between this country and its eastern neighbor.

The approximately 2,640 kilometers (1,610 miles) long line, drawn in 1893, was created by a one-page, seven article treaty between Afghanistan and what was then part of British colonial India, now Pakistan. Afghanistan claims that the treaty expired in 1993. Pakistan denies this.

Since that time, there has been no legal boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani army has crossed as much as 45 kilometers of the line, creating outposts in the tribal areas on the western side of the border.

Now, the Pakistani government has announced that it would like to lay razor wire across part of the border, in an attempt to formalize what has been a porous and heavily trafficked line in the sand.

Pakistani officials justify the move as the only way to prevent insurgent and Taliban groups from crossing the border and they have asked the U.S., Great Britain and France to finance the endeavor.

Ahmad Zahir Faqeri, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says that he and his ministry have not been informed of Pakistan's intent to fence the border, and declined to be quoted until he learned more.

This is not the first time that Pakistan has attempted to seal the border in this way. In 2005, after the Kabul government accused ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, of providing support to Taliban groups, Pakistan reacted by trying to lay razor wire across the border for the first time. The initiative was shelved under protest from the Afghan government.

This time, however, there has been no such reaction from President Hamid Karzai's administration and it is unclear if there is still time to halt Pakistan's plan.

Experts believe that this most recent move by Pakistan is an attempt by Islamabad to force Afghanistan into accepting the line as it was drawn at the end of the 19th century.

"Pakistan's announcement, specifically asking western nations to help pay for [the razor-wire] shows that Pakistan wants to legalize and formalize this illegal line," says political analyst Dad Noorani. "They want to force Afghans to accept it."

The line is a poorly drawn border, created by a team of surveyors led by Afghan King Abdur Rahman Khan and Henry Mortimer Durand, the Foreign Secretary of British India at the time, who agreed not to exercise interference beyond the western frontier.

No shura was held to ratify the agreement and most of Afghanistan's population--including those who lived along the new border--did not know that the land inhabited by Pashtuns for thousands of years was being partitioned. They were also unaware that Afghanistan was losing its strategic Arabian Sea border.

Pakistan inherited the Durand Line Agreement after its partition from India in 1947 but there has never been a formal agreement or ratification between Islamabad and Kabul. The area was annexed with the Punjab Province of Pakistan as late as 1970.

Muhammad Zubair Shafiqi, Editor-in-Chief of Weesa Daily, says that the Durand Line issue has been a sore spot in relations between the two countries ever since. He says that Pakistan's insistence on formalizing the border will only further antagonize the relationship, while doing little to actually halt the flow of insurgents across the border.

"Afghans don't officially recognize this line," Shafiqi says. "Razor wire cannot solve the problems the line presents, and it won't prevent terrorists from crossing the border."

In addition to affecting relations between the two nations, the line has also become a political issue in Islamabad and Kabul. If Pakistan can successfully legitimize the border, says Kabul University Professor Gul Rahman Qazi, it will be seen as a political victory at home for Pakistani President Asif Zardari. Conversely, such a development would make the Karzai government look weak in the face of aggression from a neighbor whose allegiances are seen by most Afghans as suspect at best.

Qazi says that a solution seemed to have been reached in the 1970's, during the presidency of Sardar Daud Khan.

At that time, says Qazi, "both countries agreed that Pakistan would give Afghanistan access to sea ports independent of the Pakistani government, in exchange for ceding some parts of Afghan territory now within the Pakistan side of the Durand Line." The agreement was never implemented, though.

Qazi says that the issue cannot be solved by unilateral action from either side because the line holds such significance to both nations. "One country does not have the authority to build forts on the line without the agreement of the other," he says.

Part of the problem is that for those who live near the border, life straddles both sides of the Line. Each day, thousands of commuters cross the border for basic necessities such as work or to see family who live in villages just a few miles away, but still in another country.

"These economic and social ties should be taken into account," says Qazi.

Legally, some experts say that the official Durand Line demarcations are no longer valid, as the treaty which codified the border expired more than ten years ago.

"The treaty has expired," says Qais Hashimi, a Jalalabad lawyer. "The line has no credibility."

But professor Qazi urges patience, saying that the issue is complex, with social, economic and political ramifications hanging in the balance, to say nothing of an armed border conflict.

"If one side invades the other" he says, "it will have negative results."


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