Home Editorial Editorial: Pakistan’s Western Border Problem

Editorial: Pakistan’s Western Border Problem

Permanently addressing issues such as smuggling and terrorism requires Islamabad to ensure the state’s writ in regions along the Durand Line

by Editorial

The 2,600km border fence between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Photograph by Nazar Ul Islam

Nearly a week since the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan was closed after a clash between the security forces of both nations, little headway has been made in reopening it, prompting Afghan Taliban to issue a statement lamenting the halt of trade. The statement blamed Pakistan for initiating the clash and alleged a prolonged closure would prove detrimental to the economy of Pakistan, “which is currently dependent on exports to Afghanistan more than ever.” In response, Islamabad has made it clear it considers Kabul at fault, and has stressed it has exercised restraint “in the face of persistent unwarranted provocations by Afghan troops deployed along the Pak-Afghan border.” For now, neither side appears ready to blink, setting the stage for a lengthy standoff, and raising key questions over Pakistan’s ties with “brotherly nation” Afghanistan.

The global community often lectures Pakistan on how it must deal with Afghanistan, with the advice commonly calling for a lack of engagement with the Taliban amidst provocations against the fencing of their shared border. Raising the stakes is a resurgence of terrorism across Pakistan, with authorities maintaining Afghan soil is used to orchestrate the militancy in violation of the Doha Agreement. A report by the U.N. Security Council’s monitoring team on Afghanistan noted the country continues to host the Islamic State-Khorasan, Al Qaeda, and other militant groups. It further alleges the Afghan Taliban are losing cohesion following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as its ranks no longer have a common foe to unite against.

Unfortunately, Pakistan today is most threatened by its shared border with Afghanistan, with terrorists staging armed assaults from the north, as smugglers imperil its economy in the south. The smuggling network, in particular, is massive, comprising thousands of people from both sides of the border, including couriers, shopkeepers, traders, and business tycoons. This poses an existential threat to the economic viability of the state that cannot be underestimated, especially as it occurs in areas of the country—Balochistan, the erstwhile tribal areas—that lack the state’s writ. The current crackdown against smuggling may plug some of the holes, but until and unless the state fulfills its basic role in enforcing its writ, any legal steps to resolve the situation will inevitably prove temporary, at best.

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