While President Trump is having trouble adding a few miles of fence to America’s incomplete border with Mexico, Pakistan is busy building one of the world’s longest border fences.
Climbing over some of the world’s toughest terrain, Pakistan’s border fence will stretch more 1,800-miles and ascend more than 12,000-feet above sea level. It will march over mountains, span gorges, and descend into desert plains—halting, at last, on the Chinese border. The fence will seek to protect valleys and mountains that invading armies have crossed for centuries from Alexander the Great to Mongol hordes.
Built to divide Pakistan from Afghanistan, the logistical difficulties of the wall are enormous. Construction workers require constant armed protection from terrorists and bandits, who often blend in among the 60,000 people, many of whom are Pashtun tribesmen, that Islamabad estimates illegally cross the Pakistan frontier every single day.
“Pakistan is trying to differentiate between the the general Afghans who wants to travel to see relatives or do business and the flow of militants and undesirable people who can cause problems at a time when the the future of Afghanistan is a big a question mark,” says retired Pakistani general Talat Masood.
At high altitudes, in winter, the Pakistan Armed Forces are also fighting sub-freezing temperatures, strong winds and a lack of drinkable water. All food and supplies must be carried in by truck, over treacherous and snaking unpaved roads, hewn into mountain contours.
Despite the perils and pains of construction, a frozen few are working through the winter months to complete the border fence. Pakistan’s fence is projected to be completed in the coming year.
The border fence is supposed to stop terrorists from carrying attacks in one country and fleeing to safety in the other. In the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, the terror attacks flow both ways.
In 2003, following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan began work on the fence, in earnest, just a few years ago. Pakistan projects completion of the long-delayed project, which has cost an estimated $550 million, by the end of 2019. Last year despite the Trump administration’s move to cut some military funding to Pakistan, Islamabad reportedly appealed to the Trump administration for more funding to finish the ambitious project.
Nations as diverse as Estonia, Greece, Israel, Morocco, Mexico, and Spain (around its small African enclaves) have thrown up border walls to slow illicit migration. Though none are as long as Pakistan’s or involve conquering such inhospitable terrain.
— Tribal Journo (@mureebmohmand) January 12, 2019
Pakistan has also deploying a tank at a border checkpoint some 12,000-feet above sea level, which, one of the highest ever deployments of an armored fighting vehicle.
The tank overlooks a section of the Pakistan border opposite the Tora Bora region in Afghanistan where an U.S. and allied troops fought Al-Qaeda remnants in 2001, according to press reports. The tank stands as a reminder that Al Qaeda and other terrorists remains active in the region.
As Pakistan and the U.S. move toward striking a deal to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan wants to stabilize its border with Afghanistan.
That border is known, on both military and civilian maps, as the Durrand Line.
Work on forts & fence continues on Pak-Afg Bdr. Total length 2611 KM. Work on 233 of 843 forts & 802 of 1200 KM pri 1 areas completed.Aiming speedy completion in pri 1 areas,overall completion by Dec 2019 IA.Shall benefit peaceful people of Pak & Afg while restricting terrorists. pic.twitter.com/o5xQbxEiEh
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) December 15, 2018
It is named after an 1893 agreement between British diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand and Abdur Rahman Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan. It marks the 2,640-kilometer (1800 miles-long border between what was once the British Northwest Frontier and rival Russian and Chinese proxy states. Since the interest of three empires—Chinese, British, Tsarist Russia, then converged in Central Asia, the British sought Afghanistan as a buffer state to protect its rich holdings in India.
Following the signing of the agreement the British Empire largely kept the strategic Khyber Pass open and the border secure through payments to local tribal chiefs and a string of outposts. However, the “Northwest Frontier” as it was known would continue to be the focus of “police actions” until the time of Pakistan’s independence in 1947. A young Winston Churchill accompanied a relief force sent to one beleaguered garrison in 1897. Today, Pakistan maintains that it inherited the border that as the successor state to the British Raj in the region.
“We have seen more skirmishes and tensions along the border in recent years thatn we have [ in decades],” said Masood, “ Pakistan has consistently maintained the wall is not relevant to the border dispute but, many Afghans perceive the wall as an effort to make the Durand Line a fait accompli.”
Modern Afghanistan has never accepted the border and it continues to be a source of tension between both countries. Opposition to the Durand Line has been nearly the one constant in Afghan foreign policy. Afghanistan cast the lone vote against Pakistan’s admission to the U.N. and tried to raise the issue again with the United Kingdom before Pakistan’s independence in 1947. Flummoxed with the creation of Pakistan, Kabul simply announced it would not recognize the Durand Line – creating a de facto Cold War and sparking numerous clashes over the decades.
“Afghanistan claims the land beyond the almost imaginary line up to the Indus [river],” said Pashtun expert and journalist Daud Khattak. “Many Afghans, mostly Pashtun nationalists, believe that Amu Darya (river) and Indus River are the natural borders of Afghanistan.”
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
February 1st, 2019