The recent attacks along the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, including a suicide bomb attack in Khost city, highlighted the pressing need for increased border management along the Durand Line. For over 100 years, successive Afghan governments have refused to formally recognize the Durand Line as Afghanistan’s international border with Pakistan.
While the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan has improved over the past years, a lack of trust still remains and the security situation on both sides of the Durand Line remains a great concern not only to both countries but also the international community. The rise of insurgent groups, illicit narcotic trade and vast poverty in the border regions can at least in part be attributed to the fact that no formal recognition of the border exists between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Formal recognition of the Durand Line would be a major step towards increasing trust building in the Afghanistan-Pakistan bilateral relationship. It would also represent a prerequisite of substantive improvement of the security situation in the border areas as well as better economic and social prospects for the people living on both sides of the Durand Line.
Today the Durand Line issue has been pushed aside on the priority list by Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the international community. However, the fact remains that after nearly a decade of foreign forces fighting in Afghanistan the entity that still controls the Afghanistan–Pakistan border are the many extremist insurgent groups. Today the Afghan Taliban (Quetta Shura), al Qaeda, Pakistan Taliban (Tehrik – e- Taliban), Hizb-e-Islamic, Haqqani Network and many other insurgent groups continue to effortlessly cross the poorly managed unrecognized border.
The lack of communication and intelligence sharing along the border has contributed to the Pakistani military, Afghanistan National Army (ANA), and NATO’s ISAF composed of over 130, 000 troops from over 43 countries inability to prevent the insurgency from using the border to their strategic advantage.
Without any substantial border control between Afghanistan and Pakistan, illicit narcotics have also easily cross the Durand Line with very limited obstruction from border police on both sides. The United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNDOC), who estimates that around 40% of Afghan heroin crosses the Pakistan border, has stated that the perfect storm of drugs and terrorism has struck the Afghan/Pakistan border.
Despite drug smugglers and insurgents groups using the unrecognized border to their advantage, the international community continues to side step addressing the border recognition issue as they want to remain a neutral player between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite minor improvements to the border crossing at Torkham and Chaman, the international community’s border management initiatives along the Durand Line have achieved little progress in the last decade. These initiatives fail to address the root cause of the border management problem, which is that a clear formal recognized border is essential for establishing a framework towards managing the border.
The time has come for the international Community to support a border recognition process, where clear guidelines on intelligence sharing practices and border management can be facilitated. By failing to address the border recognition issue, the international community led by the United Nations has instead been forced to exert additional financial resources into their refugee, drug and developmental programs.
Border recognition would help enhance border management as it would lay down the necessary conditions in an agreement that would build trust, and increase collaboration on border security. In addition, border recognition would encourage Afghanistan and Pakistan to collaborate on joint training exercises and intelligence sharing that would ultimately give the border police more skills and incentives to stop people from illegally crossings.
A final settle on the border would not only benefit Pakistan but also Afghanistan as it would help ease their negative perceptions of Pakistan. The added support of the international community could help supply Kabul with the additional resource requirements severely lacking for better border management. This is reflected in the lack of coordination and overall effectiveness by the several Afghan ministries, such as the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior who are in charge of border management.
While the finalization of the Durand Line as the official recognized border will not solve all bi-lateral problems, a comprehensible understanding of the Durand Line as the legal international border will increase harmonization of operations at all levels. A resolution could help lay the foundation for establishing a peaceful and brotherly environment between two Islamic countries with common history, ultimately leading to a more trusting relationship.
Brad L. Brasseur is an independent policy analyst with many years of experience on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Brasseur wrote his Masters dissertation on the Durand Line and is the author of the publication, Recognizing the Durand Line: A Way Way Forward for Afghanistan and Pakistan?