Friday, January 12, 2007

Fencing across the border – who's fooling who?

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To assuage international concerns over cross border filtration into Afghanistan, the Pakistani government has announced a series of measures. These include selectively fencing the 2,430km border, laying down mines and introducing biometric identity checks on the Pakistani side of the border. This is in addition to the 80,000 Pakistani troops manning the border. If this was not enough— Pakistan has also proposed to convene a tribal Jirga in an attempt to stymie the flow of militants into Afghanistan. In the near future, Pakistan also plans to repatriate 2 million or so Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan.

Rather than welcoming such measures the government in Kabul has fervently reprimanded Islamabad and continues to blame Pakistan for providing sanctuary to Taliban and other Pushtoon fighters. Meanwhile, the US is staying clear of taking sides in the dispute and maintains that the matter must be resolved bilaterally between the two countries.” I’m not going to get into disputes between states, both of whom are allies...It is clear that the issue of border crossings is one of shared interest and concern,” said White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. The only clarity the Bush administration has offered is that it concurs with media reports that Taliban fighters are using Pakistan to re-organise and launch attacks against coalition troops operating in Afghanistan. So what is going on? It is obvious that the measures spelt out by Pakistan will only succeed if Musharraf is prepared to stem the tide of Pushtoon fighters crossing into Afghanistan.

Partial fencing of the border will not stop those determined to get across. Neither will mining, as sign posts and maps can be used to navigate around such hot spots. Moreover, mines are likely to maim and kill civilians than deter militants. Biometric checks are only good as the intelligence on the ground. Besides, it will take months to implement these measures effectively—by then the present government in Kabul may not be around.

Hence the stigma of Pakistan abetting Taliban fighters will remain unless Islamabad chooses to terminate their activities. But Pakistan’s unwillingness to withdraw support to the Taliban and other Pushtoon fighters is being fuelled by the US which continues to support Pakistan’s policy of embracing Taliban militants. Despite the growing international pressure, especially from NATO members, the Whitehouse has hitherto refused to apportion blame at Musharraf’s government for incubating militants on its soil.

It is also apparent that the US is quietly supporting Pakistan’s efforts to make the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan permanent and this explains much of the hostility of the Kabul government towards the measures. The Afghans still dispute the Durand Line which was invented by the British in 1893 to divide Afghanistan from British India. Afghans consider the agreement illegal and regard Peshawar and Quetta part of Afghanistan.

America’s current plan is to buy precious time for the Taliban to take leadership over the Pushtoon resistance and then execute a major offensive against Kabul in the Spring of this year. Thereafter, the US will convene an international conference to construct a new government in Kabul—one that enjoys the support of the Pushtoons; resolve the border issue between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and integrate the tribal belt into the civil polity of Pakistan. Aspects of this plan have been put forward by Martin Inderfurth a former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs and Dennis Kux a former US ambassador to Pakistan. On 5/12/06 in an article published in the Baltimore Sun, the two advocate that Afghanistan should override the Jirga decision of 1948 and accept the Durand Line as the defacto border, and that Pakistan should undertake reforms with the assistance of the World Bank to integrate the tribal region.

But if somehow the Pakistan’s establishment believes that America is going to safeguard Pakistan’s integrity then they are gravely mistaken. American policy makers have already discussed several plans which elaborate on how Pakistan should be divided along sectarian lines. One plan proposes to reduce Pakistan to Punjab and Sindh and its security and economy integrated with India. Musharraf often talks about sectarian violence and blames Islamists or outside powers for fomenting it. Yet it is his pro-American policies that are laying the seeds of an even bigger sectarian disaster – the dismemberment of Pakistan.

-Abid Mustafa is a political commentator who specialises in Muslim affairs.

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