Ever since the Durand Line was drawn in 1893, it has been the subject of dispute. In modern times, it has been noted for its ‘porosity’ — the border that exists on paper rather than in reality for many of the tribal or nomadic groups that historically straddle it. Guns, drugs and every conceivable type of smuggled goods shuttle to and fro, with at various times the international community calling on both Afghanistan and Pakistan to regulate the flow, a call mostly falling on deaf ears. As the tectonic plates of geopolitics slowly grind, Pakistan finds itself in a position where a tightening of the border in every respect and a control of the to-and-fro is in its best interests — and chaos promptly ensues, along with fatalities.
The border at Torkham is perhaps the most obvious exemplar of porosity. It is a border in name only for people have been passing though without papers or any other form of identification let alone a passport. Formalising border controls, a move Pakistan had telegraphed well in advance, was never going to be popular with Afghanistan. On June 12, Afghan forces opened fire at the crossing and on June 14, Pakistani Major Jawad succumbed to his wounds. Pakistan responded to the firing and reportedly one Afghan soldier was killed and six wounded. The gate that Pakistan was building was 37 metres inside our own territory.
If ever there was a dispute that Pakistan, nor Afghanistan, did not need, this is it. The Durand Line is an internationally recognised border and like it or not, Afghanistan is going to have to live with that reality. Simply pretending it does not exist is in the best interests of nobody; and opening fire on a legal construction that in no way violates the sovereignty of Afghanistan borders on outright lunacy. If Pakistan is ever to get a real grip on the movement of terrorists and arms between the two countries, it has to become truly serious about border control. The resolution of the consequences of a colonial history is perhaps centuries away, and both Pakistan and Afghanistan are going to have to make the best of what was a very bad deal in 1893.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2016.
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