India has its western border with Pakistan, fenced and well-lit, yet it has apparently been unable to overcome the issue of illegal intrusions by motivated individuals. The incidents of firing across the Line of Control in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region often make headlines.
On the other hand, Pakistan shares a 2,500 kilometre-long borderline with Afghanistan. Over 15,000 people are said to illegally move across the Torkham crossing post located on the Durand line border, on a daily basis. As a result, owing to a number of formal and informal crossing points as well, the adjective porous is often interlinked with the line.
'Laser walls' activated along India, Pakistan border
Islamabad, however, has launched its first modern border management system on the Torkham post effective from May 31, its vitality for bilateral ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot be overstated. Interestingly, it is the first serious step towards modernisation of the border since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
But the remaining seven borders, located all the way up to Chitral and Waziristan, will not witness similar upgradation in the near future owing to a lack of funds and priority. Thus, smugglers, terrorists or refugees can freely cross into either side of the frontier.
Similar problems exist at the south-western border with Iran but are far less reported. In fact, the cases of Kulbushan Jadhav and Mullah Mansour have brought illicit traffic from the Persian side to the fore. However, officials have no estimates so far.
A global issue
The challenge is not peculiar to Pakistan. The world’s most advanced and affluent nation also confront human smuggling with unsatisfactory success. Donald J Trump may have said many awful things but one sound-bite is of particular interest for the security community, globally.
Border management system starts functioning at Torkham
“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Without any hesitation, the hopeful presidential candidate went on to explain that Mexicans bring problems such as sexual offense, drugs and mafia to US. His argument stemmed from the illegal entrance of 400,000 immigrants into US every year. But his racist slurs and rash mannerism made him appear outrageous and ridiculous. Besides, as he never indulges himself in details, it remains unclear how a wall spanning over 2,000kms can protect a country from committed entrants.
The European Union has sealed £4.7billion deal with Turkey to stem the flow of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani refugees.
Australia, though a continent in its own right, has always struggled to secure its maritime borders. Notoriously, Canberra holds aspiring illegal migrants in the most appalling conditions at Christmas Island.
For Italy and Spain, illegal intruders pose insurmountable problems despite technology and resources being at the states’ disposal.
The burgeoning problem
Border security emanates from interplay of geography, public policy and economy of the region. The world’s richest countries have been attracting vulnerable populations, skilled but under or unemployed youth and criminals.
Pak-Afghan border to shed 'porous' tag soon
In certain cases, softer immigration policies become drivers of foreign inflow. For instance, sizeable numbers of Pakistanis have been risking their lives to reach Europe. Conflict in Syria and Libya has given unprecedented impetus to the business of human smugglers.
Banking on its affluence and dispute-free borderlines, Saudi Arabia has implemented the world's largest and most sophisticated frontier control system. The number of estimated intrusion is almost negligible. Besides this exception, other countries are fraught with suitcases full of trouble and dilemmas. The issues range from affordability to terrain and inter-service rivalry to flawed border drawn by existing colonial powers.
The Pak-Afghan border cannot shut its ‘porous’ alias with flawless round-the-year functioning of the new system installed. For its varyingly fenced boundary with Mexico, the US maintains 30 hi-tech ports of entry managed by Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST), yet the headache remains.
Ideally, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran need to work towards a cooperative framework of border management and identity sharing to check the regular and irregular movement of individuals and goods. While curbing terrorist and drug cartel requires effective intelligence and operational measures, procedure to improve the flow of commerce can be achieved by slashing red tape. Moreover, realistic trade rules and regulations can help stem the smuggling of goods.
Handing over of abductees such as Shahbaz Taseer and Ali Gilani and mobility of Mullah Fazalullahs and Mullah Mansours to Afghanistan cannot be curtailed by the disjointed system of immigration and border control, with ineffective or non-existent information and intelligence sharing regimes. To secure its borders from non-state actors and illegal migrants, Pakistan cannot delay implementation of an integrated and intelligence led mechanism backed with effective pre-arrival checks and real time identity checks through an interagency task force such as the BEST.
While electrified vehicular fence is paramount, terrain permits, pedestrian hedges with heat-sensing devices and remotely operated cameras can help preserve fruits of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ