As the United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Olson and US Senator John McCain on Saturday met the Army Chief at GHQ Rawalpindi, border management with Afghanistan remained the most important issue under discussion. The deadly clashes at Torkham border have taught us one thing; building a border fence is not going to be an easy task. The idea of erecting fences along the Durand Line is not an unnecessary one, as stricter border management has been the sentiment echoing in Pakistan. However, this mammoth task has some problems that need to be discussed and managed before serious attempts are made to begin the construction at the border again.

While the legal experts would reiterate the fact that building the fence was Pakistan’s sole decision and a national right, the reality is that in order to initiate the process, we must keep in view the peculiar history of border conflict between the two countries. Afghanistan is adamant to see the border as an arbitrary line drawn by the foreigners, who had no right to decide the fate of the Pashtun tribes that live within the border area. The lines that were drawn all over South Asia, left the same ethnicities as well as halves of the same nations across both sides of each line, as in the case of the Durand line, yet the only lines which have been accepted are the ones which are either backed by natural geography or the religious divide, like with India. There are multiple examples of ethnic groups living in two or more countries like the Kurds, Balochis, Tajiks and Germans, to name a few, and hence the Afghans must recognise and embrace the fact that the same ethnic group can live in more than one country.

The other, more important aspect that needs to be under scrutiny is the exorbitant cost that will be required to set up such a large border fence. The cost of setting up a mere barred wire fence along the border would be in billions, and examples from all over the world like the US-Mexico border shows that barred wire is not going to stop people from crossing it. A secure border will require watchtowers and check posts to be built, and then the next step would be to establish a new army unit or force that can guard the border. All of this will require extensive resources that we do not have at the moment to spare, with the army tied up in Zarb-e-Azb and other issues. Border management is a pressing need yes, but it needs to be executed with flawless planning and diplomacy for it to be a long-lasting and acceptable division of the two states.