Unregulated border management appears to be one of the emerging challenges threatening relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In an environment of heightened security concerns, the issue of coordinated border management should have been addressed much earlier.
It is said Afghanistan had been sitting silent on Pakistan’s proposal for coordination on the border management since 2012. The recent dip in relations accompanied by hostilities and loss of precious lives could have been prevented had some measures for cross border cooperation been in place.
The concept of coordinated border management can be referred to as a logical way to manage border operations to ensure effective and efficient procedures by all regulatory agencies, both domestic and international, who are involved in border security and regulatory requirements. The objective of coordinated border management, recognised by the World Customs Organization (WCO), is to is to facilitate trade and clearance of travellers and at the same time ensure secure borders.
Our neighbour on the west needs to understand that ‘domestic border management’ is an essential component of coordinated border management and Pakistan was simply doing its side of the job. There was no violation of any border protocol, no provocation of any kind, no transgression of authority. Pakistan simply reinstalled a gate, 37 meters inside its territory at Torkham, primarily for security reasons to check the illegal movement of militants who have played havoc with the peace and security of the country. Being a sovereign state, it has a right to determine the framework of rules and policies within its territory just as it has a right to control and regulate people and goods entering or exiting its territorial jurisdiction.
Border management at Torkham is important for two reasons; security and trade. The Pak-Afghan border, commonly known as the Durand Line, is 2,450 kms porous border with more than 200 crossing points out of which a few have minimal presence of law-enforcement agencies. Torkham in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Chaman in Balochistan are two such unregulated border points with a heavy influx of cross-border traffic.
The installation of a gate at Torkham was an attempt to address vital security concerns in a bid to manage the domestic frontier and lend support to Operation Zarb-e- Azab. The impact was felt when it was reported that almost 618 Afghan nationals were charged under the Foreigners Act for not having valid visa documents and were deported to their country after the Torkham border crossing was reopened.
The restrictions had considerably reduced the number of Afghans travelling illegally to Pakistan via Torkham. If serious implementation continues it will deter threats posed by organised crime, smugglers, terrorists, and even goods that could endanger people. How far the infiltration of militants and terrorists can be averted altogether only time will tell, notwithstanding the many unregulated crossing points available to miscreants that need to be regulated simultaneously.
On the other hand, effective border management at Torkham can help facilitate trade. As Afghanistan imports through Pakistan under the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) and exports to India by using Wagah border, trade facilitation is a desired objective. Ironically, the facility of transit trade is being misused to the detriment of Pakistan with the bulk of goods destined for Afghanistan under APTTA coming back to towns in Pakistan, particularly KP, thus hurting the manufacturing industry and affecting legal imports incurring loss of duties and taxes to the national exchequer.
The inter-agency ‘behind the border’ cooperation between various agencies like Customs, Frontier Constabulary, FIA, Anti Narcotics Force and intelligence is one form of coordinated border management that could help curb smuggling, reduce cost of doing business, facilitate trade and also secure border.
The other component of coordinated border management is international border management involving collaboration between neighbouring countries and trading partners. This is where Pakistan and Afghanistan need to work together. With mounting security problems on its side and Afghanistan’s desire to increase transit trade with India through Pakistan, border management will be of much benefit to Afghanistan as well.
The importance of coordinated border management cannot be overemphasised as an important border control strategy in recent years. A ‘Pakistan gate’ is being built at the Pak-Iran border with the joint cooperation of Balochistan Customs and Frontier Corps to curb illegal trade and secure borders with much engagement from Iran. Similarly trade and passenger movement between Pakistan and India, despite being bitter adversaries, is being regulated through separate gates at the Wagah-Attari border without interruption.
If coordinated border management with India is operational, and that with Iran is in the pipeline, there is no reason why it cannot be successful with Afghanistan, notwithstanding the inherent cultural and social affinity between the two neighbours. There must be agreement on coordination of opening hours, setting up of joint patrols, creation of hot line and contact offices to aid communication and exchange of information. Whatever model of cooperation is selected and implemented, it should achieve the joint goal of security and trade facilitation.
The success of coordinated border management comes down to political will. With sufficient political will and leadership, and sound commitment of regulatory border agencies, border management is in the interest of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The writer holds an LLM degree in international economic law from the University of Warwick.