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August 18, 2016

Countering terrorism


August 18, 2016

While an array of foreign and domestic forces are involved in fomenting terrorism in Pakistan, illegal movement at the Pak-Afghan border and the presence of Afghan refugees in our country are two major tools being used in this enterprise. The Quetta carnage prompts us to do some unconventional deliberation on these issues.

The Pakistani state does not have control over the geo-strategic ambitions of the regional and international forces involved in the promotion of terrorism. However, it can take certain steps which can lead to the mitigation of the threat. Preventing the movement of militants from Afghanistan into Pakistan and preventing the smuggling of arms and ammunition is one such area.

Security issues were inherent in our country’s long, controversial borders from day one. At the time of Independence, Pakistan’s boundaries with all four neighbouring countries were controversial and disputed. We resolved our disputes with China and Iran by ceding a huge mass of territory to both of them, but failed to settle the Durand Line with Kabul and the Jammu and Kashmir territory with Delhi.

Iran and Pakistan signed a boundary agreement on February 6, 1958 which was enacted on July 15, 1963 when Pakistan gave Iran 499 square kilometres of its territory. In 1963, the Sino-Pakistan Frontier Agreement and Sino-Pak Boundary Agreement was made under which China ceded over 1,942 square kilometres to Pakistan and Pakistan recognised Chinese sovereignty over hundreds of square kilometres of land in Northern Kashmir and Ladakh.

The 2500-kms porous and mountainous border, called the Durand Line, with Afghanistan remained unsettled and now has become a huge security issue. Pakistan insisted on the finality of this border but the rulers in Kabul always refused to recognise its sanctity. They have claims over the territory controlled by Pakistan. The same ethnic Pakhtun tribes straddle the two sides of the boundary and keep travelling across the border. For any security force in the world such a long, controversial border would be a nightmare.

Military experts say it is near impossible to seal this border through fencing and other barriers because the territory is mountainous and the border, at places, passes through human settlements, houses and mountain tops. The Afghan government is also strongly opposed to the barrier.

India can put up a barrier on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir which is a disputed territory as per UN resolutions. Iran can build a barrier on its boundary with Pakistan. Why can’t Pakistan do the same? If that security measure, howsoever expensive it may be, can secure lives of our innocent people who keep falling victim to the reckless terrorism emanating from Afghanistan we should go for it.

The fortification of the Pak-Afghan boundary may not eliminate all the terrorism we are faced with but it will lead to substantial reduction in violent activities for it will check illegal, unauthorised movement across the two countries. This may also put to rest allegations that Pakistan has expansionist designs towards the West.

The presence of more than three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan provides another convenient tool to the foreign powers to wage a proxy war in Pakistan. Trained mercenaries sponsored by the Afghan-India combine can easily disguise themselves among the refugees with whom they share close tribal bonds irrespective of ideological and political affiliations. The monitoring of Afghan refugees and their settlements is not easy.

The refugees have spread in every nook and corner of the country during the past more than 35 years of their stay here. This is the second generation of Afghan refugees. It’s wishful thinking, and official rhetoric for public consumption, that the refugees will return to their homeland. They have bought properties here, established businesses and married with the locals. A big section of the local Pakhtun population has sympathy with us for ethnic reasons. They will now allow the state to forcefully evict them. Above all, the powerful international community won’t allow us to force these refugees back to turbulent Afghanistan.

In tribal, ethnically-divided Afghanistan warring tribes may continue to fight with each other for another decade or more. The country has little economic base of its own and survives on foreign handouts. No Afghan refugee is going to leave a relatively prosperous life in this country for Afghanistan. They have become part of our economic system.

After hosting more than three million people for over 35 years, it will be unwise on our part to treat them harshly and force them to leave – which they will not in any case. It would be more realistic on our part to naturalise the Afghan refugees as Pakistani citizens. In this way, we can monitor them effectively and bring them under our security system’s oversight.

For centuries Pakhtuns have migrated wave after wave from Afghanistan to this part. Let it be yet another, though the last of its kind, wave of the Pakhtun migration and put a full stop to this by building a wall at the Durand Line. Our focus should be on checking the inflow of new people from Afghanistan.

Securing the Pak-Afghan border and bringing all the Afghan refugees into an effective security net are two major steps that can boost our internal security system’s capacity in the fight against the hydra-headed menace of terrorism.

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