Posted on March 16, 2020

Pakistan Builds Border Fence, Limiting Militants and Families Alike

Ben Farmer and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, New York Times, March 15, 2020

Above the trucks and travelers lining up at the main eastern gateway between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a glinting new landmark scales the dun-colored mountains: Parallel mesh fences, a couple of feet apart and topped with coils of razor wire, climb from the border crossing up over the dizzying crags.

The section of fence overlooking Torkham is just a glimpse of a 1,600-mile barrier begun four years ago by Pakistan’s military and set to be completed this year.

Nearly 9,000 miles from President Trump’s border wall with Mexico, Pakistan has quietly been building its own version to try to control what has long been one of the world’s most porous and lawless frontiers.

The Pakistani Army credits the fence with helping to transform security in the country, sharply cutting terrorist attacks after a sustained army offensive pushed many militants — and tens of thousands of civilian refugees — into Afghanistan.

Yet the barrier is also a projection of hard power in its own right, to the detriment of diplomacy with Afghanistan and the life of Pashtun tribes that had functionally ignored the border for generations.

Afghanistan disputes the border that the fence follows, drawn by British colonial officials in 1893 and known as the Durand Line. And as the wire unfurls over hundreds of miles, it is cutting off routes through the mountains used by smugglers, militants, traders and families alike, according to interviews with government officials, tribal leaders and diplomats.

Pakistan had long considered a border barrier. But construction began in earnest in 2016, after costly army offensives to push many militants out of the country’s tribal areas and into Afghanistan.

Some 800 miles of the $450 million fence are now complete and more than 1,000 border forts are being built, according to a statement from the Pakistani military’s information wing. {snip}

{snip} One senior Pakistani security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the public, said, “It’s a herculean task because of the terrain up there.”

Despite that difficulty, senior officers say it has had an appreciable effect on security even though it has not been finished. They cite a sharp drop in attacks by militants linked to the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban, after many were driven into Afghanistan.

Last year only 82 attacks in Pakistan were attributed to that network, down from 352 in 2014, when the military offensive began, according to the Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies, which monitors extremist violence.


Fence construction groups have also been attacked by militants, who have released videos of themselves tearing down sections and seizing building supplies.

Corruption and bribery are also likely to help people find ways through in a region where smuggling has been a way of life for many.


Cross-border trails and roads were once common in the mountains on either side of Torkham, many of them without checkpoints.


Those informal routes have now been closed, forcing all traffic through controlled border crossings. Eventually, Pakistan’s military plans 16 “notified routes” to cross along the length of the new fence, officials said.


Fence-building has become a flash point, with the appearance of construction crews sometimes inciting firefights and occasional shelling. Afghan troops have accused Pakistan of building on Afghan territory.