Pakistan-Afghanistan Borderlands, Contemporary Border Management Models and their Relevance to these Borderlands

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Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal TI (M)*

*The writer is a retired Air Commodore of Pakistan Air Force. He is founding chairperson of a leading think tank: “Pakistan Focus”. An abridged version of this paper was read in an international conference organized by Political Science Department of Peshawar University and HSF Islamabad on August 20-22, 2017. During the initial stage of research, Brigadier Raiz Ahmed also contributed towards the presentation script. The paper has since been updated. Research closed on November 14, 2018.


Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands entered the centre-stage of international attention after 9/11 1. International perception has it that trails of some of the most horrible terrorist attacks lead towards these borderlands. The borderland’s environment evolves in various ways. A single major factor responsible for making a typical borderland become“what it is” or “what it is not” is the art and science of border management by the countries circumscribing such borderlands. A benevolent border management enables security and evolves a welfare focused formal-informal economy. And in the process, hard borders gradually transform into soft borders and may eventually cease to exist for all practical purposes. The Schengen area border management model represents such realities. A security focused border management model tends to relegate wellbeing of the people of borderlands in to a secondary or tertiary place, leading to mushrooming of organized crime and cross border tensions, posing daunting dilemmas of ungoverned principalities, fiefdoms of drug lords and small arms peddlers, dens of criminals, etc. The benevolent model focuses on efficient passage of persons and goods to ensure personal freedom and trade facilitation, making participating states the ultimate beneficiary of revenue collection. Investors make a beeline to invest in such borderlands. The spinoff benefits are passed on to borderland dwellers as well. The security model focuses on hindering the passage on account of safekeeping concerns, based on cumbersome goods and personnel clearance on the pretext of ceasing contraband items and arresting cross border criminals. This is symbolized by an inefficient clearance system, opacity and money extorting officials. Both participating states and persons involved in trade and travel are the losers mafias strengthen and investors flee. Those residing in borderlands are left to fend for themselves, often living in hardship. This complicates the processes of control over the ‘peripheral border spaces’, often earning them the titles of ‘wild frontiers,’ and ‘ungoverned spaces.’

Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland management presents a unique political mosaic. It has maintained a façade of societal structures through indigenous improvisation. Interplay of formal and informal institutions, paradoxically, cooperate as well as compete with state building processes. Though the current international border demarcation has the requisite backing of international law, it may not be possible to enforce it on “as it is” basis, because of the political baggage emanating out of its non-acceptance by one side. Border and borderland management is a complex and tricky affair. Balance is needed beween regulation and ease of movement. It often involves permitting a mix of formal-informal economy for borderlands with a proviso that it does not threaten the wellbeing of either side’s formal economy. Development of special economic zones often pave the way to prosperity and wellbeing of borderland dwellers, leading to their socio-economic and political mainstreaming 2.

This paper examines some contemporary border management models and recommends absorption of best practices for evolving a mutually acceptable Pakistan-Afghanistan border management model to create safe and prosperous borderlands on both sides of the divide. – Author)


International border management practices keep varying from most lax to most stringent. They also vary from country to country and region to region. One size does not fit all; and keeping in view the behavior of each neighbor a country may have different sets of rules for different countries. The United States’ models of managing its border with Mexico and Canada vary to a great degree. From the fall of the Berlin wall to President Trump’s envisioned wall on the US-Mexico border, border management procedures have come a full circle. Still European Union’s Schengen model presents a system that allows ease of cross border movement. And in between lie various practices of procedural and physical obstructions. Stringent visa and transit rules, ditches, water obstacles, fences etc. are some of the contemporary border management tools. Such tools are applied to a border irrespective of their mutual recognition status. Precedence exist where physical obstructions have been erected on disputed territories as well. Keeping in view the prevalent environment of cross border terrorism, international mood supports stringent border management regimes.

The Context

There are a number of definitions of Borderland. They are mostly area and situation specific. Generally, a borderland is presumed as a land mass facing a frontier or border. And for the purpose of this study, Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland would imply land mass astride Pakistan-Afghanistan international border as defined by the Durand Line. Borderlands evolve in various ways. A single major impacting factor responsible for making a typical borderland become “what it is” or “what it is not” is the art and science of border management.

Left on their own, borderlands thrive on informal economies. And resultant unaccounted for wealth leads towards evolution of misplaced power centres controlled by criminals, peddlers, traffickers and warlords, ultimately leading to politics of coercion and terrorism. Development of transnational economic zones under various brand names and evolving Free and Preferential Trade Agreements are some of the ways of mainstreaming borderlands through economic incentives and transforming of an informal economy into a formal economy by applying regulatory measures 3. Unfortunately, Pak-Afghan borderlands missed a lifetime opportunity of setting up Reconstruction Opportunity Zones 4. This bill was introduced in the 111th Congress, which met from January 6, 2009 to December 22, 2010. Legislation not enacted by the end of a Congress is cleared from the books 5.

The Pakistan Afghanistan borderland presents an interesting case study, with its unique socio-political mosaic of divided communities and households. Afghanistan prefers to call it the Durand Line after the British diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand who signed the Durand Line Agreement with Amir Abdur Rahman of Afghanistan on November 12, 1893 6. The Durand Line Agreement comprises of seven articles. It is one of the most misunderstood agreements. The main reason behind this is that it is the most misquoted Agreement by the Afghan government.

“[Durand Line Agreement

(November 12, 1893)

Agreement between Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, G. C. S. I., and Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, K. C. I. E., C. S. I.

Whereas certain questions have arisen regarding the frontier of Afghanistan on the side of India, and whereas both His Highness the Amir and the Government of India are desirous of settling these questions by friendly understanding, and of fixing the limit of their respective spheres of influence, so that for the future there may be no difference of opinion on the subject between the allied Governments, it is hereby agreed as follows:

  1. The eastern and southern frontier of his Highness’s dominions, from Wakhan to the Persian border, shall follow the line shown in the map attached to this agreement.
  1. The Government of India will at no time exercise interference in the territories lying beyond this line on the side of Afghanistan, and His Highness the Amir will at no time exercise interference in the territories lying beyond this line on the side of India.
  1. The British Government thus agrees to His Highness the Amir retaining Asmar and the valley above it, as far as Chanak. His Highness agrees, on the other hand, that he will at no time exercise interference in Swat, Bajaur, or Chitral, including the Arnawai or Bashgal valley. The British Government also agrees to leave to His Highness the Birmal tract as shown in the detailed map already given to his Highness, who relinquishes his claim to the rest of the Waziri country and Dawar. His Highness also relinquishes his claim to Chageh.
  1. The frontier line will hereafter be laid down in detail and demarcated, wherever this may be practicable and desirable, by joint British and Afghan commissioners, whose object will be to arrive by mutual understanding at a boundary which shall adhere with the greatest possible exactness to the line shown in the map attached to this agreement, having due regard to the existing local rights of villages adjoining the frontier.
  1. With reference to the question of Chaman, the Amir withdraws his objection to the new British cantonment and concedes to the British Governmeni the rights purchased by him in the Sirkai Tilerai water. At this part of the frontier the line will be drawn as follows:

From the crest of the Khwaja Amran range near the Psha Kotal, which remains in British territory, the line will run in such a direction as to leave Murgha Chaman and the Sharobo spring to Afghanistan, and to pass half-way between the New Chaman Fort and the Afghan outpost known locally as Lashkar Dand. The line will then pass half-way between the railway station and the hill known as the Mian Baldak, and, turning south-wards, will rejoin the Khwaja Amran range, leaving the Gwasha Post in British territory, and the road to Shorawak to the west and south of Gwasha in Afghanistan. The British Government will not exercise any interference within half a mile of the road.

  1. The above articles of agreement are regarded by the Government of India and His Highness the Amir of Afghanistan as a full and satisfactory settlement of all the principal differences of opinion which have arisen between them in regard to the frontier; and both the Government of India and His Highness the Amir undertake that any differences of detail, such as those which will have to be considered hereafter by the officers appointed to demarcate the boundary line, shall be settled in a friendly spirit, so as to remove for the future as far as possible all causes of doubt and misunderstanding between the two Governments.
  1. Being fully satisfied of His Highness’s goodwill to the British Government, and wishing to see Afghanistan independent and strong, the Government of India will raise no objection to the purchase and import by His Highness of munitions of war, and they will themselves grant him some help in this respect. Further, in order to mark their sense of the friendly spirit in which His Highness the Amir has entered into these negotiations, the Government of India undertake to increase by the sum of six lakhs of rupees a year the subsidy of twelve lakhs now granted to His Highness.

H.M. Durand,

Amir Abdur Rahman Khan.

Kabul, November 12, 1893.]”

It is a single page agreement containing seven articles. Before this agreement, the border between the two sides was not respected by either party and was subject to cross border intrusions. Signing of Durand Line Agreement and the subsequent demarcation of borders brought a sense of stability in bilateral relations and set a tempo and tenor for a number of subsequent agreements between the two sides. All such agreements acknowledged and re-affirmed the validity of Durand Line Agreement. Sensing the departure of the British empire and the creation of Pakistan, the Afghan foreign minister wrote a letter to the Indian Prime Minister, Jawahar Laal Nehru, in 1946, acknowledging the validity of the Durand Line Agreement with India, and quoting historic reasons for raising doubt about the future validity and continuation of the Durand Line with the upcoming new state—Pakistan. The Indian Prime Minister snubbed the Afghan government by stating that if one was to go by historic perspective then once the Hindu Kush range marked the Afghan border with India. All Afghan governments recognized it as an international border till 1947. Later all successive Afghan governments preferred to renege.

The Durand Lind Agreement is the main factor behind making the Pakistan Afghanistan borderland as it is or as it is not. The agreement brought about a unique concept of spheres of influence, causing complications towards the likelihood of any future reconciliation and settlement. Today, management of this border is an international concern, as the fallout of keeping it in its present unregulated and unmanaged status has global consequences.

Major Causes Leading to the Current Situation

Major Causes leading to the current situation are:

(a). Interpretations and misinterpretations of the Durand Line Agreement

(b). Socio-political challenges of a borderline dividing households and families

(c). Huge gap between formal and informal trade

(d). Location at cross roads of human, arms and drug trafficking routes

(e). Post 9/11 terrorism and counter terrorism dilemmas

(f). Regional and global dynamics of neo-Great Game

Historic Position

Two historic factors that Afghan governments frequently like to refer to are: signing of the Durand Line Agreement under duress; and a 100 years’ time bar on this agreement. Afghan historic interpretations have deep roots and is full of pot holes. Afghan nationalists still see Peshawar, Afghanistan’s old winter capital, as having been stolen from them by the Sikhs in 1834 7. Most of their maps of Pakistan, published by nationalists, begin from the borders of Punjab. In practice, successive Afghan governments reaffirmed the Durand Line agreement by making additional treaties with the British Empire based on this Agreement in 1905, 1919, 1921 and 1930. The contention that the Amir signed the Durand Line Agreement under coercion, is refuted by evidence to the contrary. It was challenged by the Amir himself as well as all the documented narrative of the Darbar (Royal court) held by the Amir for approval of the Agreement by Jirga. In addition, no expert has been able to find any authentic reference to support the 100 years’ time limit notion.

“Amir Abdur Rehman was generally satisfied with the outcome of his negotiations with Sir Mortimer Durand. They were conducted according to the satisfaction of both parties, and eliminated past misunderstandings between the two. While signing the Agreement, the Amir held a ‘durbar’ where his two elder sons, high-ranking civil and military officers, and four hundred leading chiefs were present. Writing about this occasion, Sir Mortimer states, ‘He (Amir) made a really first class speech beginning. He then urged his people to be true friends to us and to make their children the same. He said that we did them nothing but good and had no designs on their country. After each period of his speech, there were shouts of ‘Approved! Approved’’ from amongst those present. This account has been corroborated by the Amir himself in his memoirs where he writes that “before the audience I made a speech to commence the proceedings in which I gave an outline of all the understanding which had been agreed upon and the provisions which had been signed for the information of my nation and my people and all those who were present. I praised God for bringing about friendly relations which now existed between the two Governments and putting them on a closer footing than they had been before 8.”

Such accounts, along with the nature and terms of the Durand Line Agreement, amply indicate that the document was not forced upon the Afghan side and that this action had requisite institutionalized public consent 9. Following the “third Anglo-Afghan War”, both sides concluded the “Rawalpindi Treaty” in 1919. Subsequently, “the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1921” was signed. In both these treaties, the two sides reaffirmed the validity of Durand Line Agreement 10. Ever since, the international community has recognized the legitimacy of the Durand Line, initially as the international border between the Raj and Afghanistan, and later between Pakistan and Afghanistan 11.

The second misinterpretation of the Durand Line Agreement is that after 100 years, the territory given up by Kabul would be returned to it 12. Afghan governments in the past have been claiming, again without any evidence, that the Dari and Pashto language copies of the Durand Line agreement have specifically mentioned the 100 years period, but it was left out from the English version by Mortimer Durand 13. The Afghan government has yet to produce evidence to back its claim 14. In fact, it is argued that Afghanistan has refrained from taking this issue to the UN, the International Court of Justice or any other world forum because of the weakness of its legal case.

Another issue is about the “easement rights” granted to the tribes living close to the border and affected by some of the restrictions placed on their movement across the Pak-Afghan border. There is no specific mention of these “easement rights” but traditionally the people divided by the Durand Line close to the border have enjoyed free movement across the border by simply producing a ‘rahdari’ (permit) issued for identification purposes 15. These easement rights that are limited to only Shinwari and Waziri tribes are quite limited in scope and extent – they can travel up to 20 kilometres in Pakistan for attending social functions, such as deaths, weddings, etc, of relatives 16.

On its independence on August 14, 1947, Pakistan succeeded to all the international rights and obligations of the British Indian Government with the Afghan government; for which it assumed responsibility in line with Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Successive Afghan governments have refrained from taking this issue to any international forum because of legal weaknesses in its case.

Implications of the Durand Agreement

The Durand Line Agreement was an exchange of territories agreement. It granted effective political control of parts of modern day Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the British. The British system maintained their indirect control of such acquired territories by appointing respective clan leaders as chiefs of their local communities under the supervision of British Political Agents. This arrangement resulted in an unusual system of land administration in which the peoples on the British side of the line retained stateless autonomy within an imperial system that declared sovereignty over their lands. It created seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas referred to as Agencies and seven Provincially Administered Tribal Areas.

A special legal framework was formulated under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (1901). This instrument gave the colonial administrators sweeping powers to deal with individuals and whole groups by arbitrarily dishing out harsh and inhuman – individual and group – punishments outside the normal judicial process. Tribes were made liable to pay heavy fines for law violation by any of its members. Houses of defaulters were burnt and or razed to the ground and their entry to their tribe’s territory was banned forever. Pakistan is consistently making efforts to mainstream these territories – administratively and politically.

There have been numerous statements by individuals, governments, and international forums. The undue stretching of the rubric of ‘easement rights’ beyond two Pashtun tribes— Shinwari and Waziri—has come to be misunderstood as facilitative of cross border movement for all, and at will. These rights are not part of the Durand Agreement and have evolved through historic practices and are rather limited in scope. The lack of identity regarding who is entitled for easement laws is a major issue. All Afghans and Pathans living from North of Mazar-e-Sharif to Southern Karachi tend to evoke and avail easement rights. There is a need to determine who are entitled to easement rights. Once that is cleared, the entitled individuals should be issued identification documents 17. Likewise, rules should be framed to regulate the functioning of this portion of immigration law 18.

Prevailing stateless structures in the borderlands encourage the evolution of sanctuaries for criminals and radicals of diverse origins. Foreign militants, many of whom have now been in the region for decades, have established deep connections with their Pashtun hosts through marriages and business alliances. They are here to stay and behave the way they want to. As a consequence, these borderlands have become a nodal point for illicit trafficking, cross border crime and militancy.

Positions and Perspectives

Pakistan’s interest with regard to the border is to maintain the status quo 19. It has a firm stance with respect to the Durand Line as being the legitimate international border and a settled issue, whereby the Durand Line’s status as an international border is a closed matter and is non-negotiable. Pakistan asserts its sovereignty along the international border as a symbol of state power that cannot be challenged. By doing so it radiates a message to the international community, and more so to its own tribal population living on its side of the Durand Line that they belong to Pakistan and should not look towards alternative political structures. Pakistan’s concern is that agreeing to enter into any discussion with Afghanistan on the issue could open up space for separatists in KPK, Balochistan and elsewhere.

Afghanistan’s intentions and desires for the Durand Line are unclear and lack uniformity. Numerous actions of the Afghan state have sent across signals of not only de facto but even de jure recognition of the border. Such actions are evident from its tourist and trade related actions. Moreover, Afghan governments are politically weak, hence fearful that any negotiated settlement with Pakistan would be portrayed as a national betrayal by internal political opponents. Afghanistan’s borders with all its neighbours present the same story of divided communities. Afghanistan hardly controls any of its borders. It is mostly the other side that feel compelled to manage it.

For the people who live along the Durand Line it has never constituted an international border. They act as if it does not exist. Local inhabitants are pleased to see the border issue remain unresolved because it makes it easier for them to reject state authority of all types and benefit from illicit trade, and trafficking and peddling.

The international community has always recognised the Durand Line as an international border. And through its actions in the ‘Global War on Terror,’ it has reaffirmed the recognition of the Durand Line as de jure an international border. International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) and NATO land forces never crossed the Durand Line even in hot pursuit operations. The US always recognized the Durand Line as an international border.

The FATA Dilemma

Despite the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, challenges in the context of borderland management remain phenomenal. Over decades, the government of Pakistan has been putting in concerted efforts to mainstream the people and territories of FATA. FCR was amended in 2011 20 to exclude some of the harsher punishments – especially group penalties – and incorporated recourse to Riwaj (custom) and provided some facets of appeal, wakeel (advocacy) and daleel (argument) 21. The law of universal franchise has been extended to FATA since 1997 and political parties were allowed to function in 2013 22. The elections of 2013 and 2018 were held as per the norms of universal franchise under the umbrella of political parties 23. The US Department of State’s country report gives a glimpse of the effort by the government of Pakistan to mainstream FATA.

“In order to increase the central government’s writ in the FATA, the Government of Pakistan is implementing a comprehensive approach with three prongs: political, security, and developmental. For the political prong, Pakistan seeks to bolster effective governance by empowering local officials. For the security prong, Pakistan’s objective is to increase the capacity and efficacy of local security forces. For the developmental prong, the Government of Pakistan has designed a comprehensive sustainable development plan for the region. The plan concentrates on four sectors (basic human services, natural resources, communication/ infrastructure, and economic development). Merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is under consideration 24. Resistance to forward movement of such meaningful initiative is fierce, it mainly stems out from the beneficiaries of maintaining status quo in borderlands” 25.

Broader Socio-political Context

Pashtuns in the region take great pride in asserting their autonomy and declare that their Pashtunwali tradition and tribal Jirga supersede state law, codes and courts 26.

(a). They see themselves as members of stateless societies that owe little or nothing to the national governments which attempt to declare sovereignty over them 27.

(b). Their identity is not constituted in terms of states but in terms of tribes, localities, families and allegiance to individuals. Perfectly fitting into Asbyah model of Ibn-e-Khaldoon 28.

(c). State actors have a hard time appreciating the dynamics of such a system and are ill-equipped to deal with personality-driven politics 29. Hence, there is no mechanism to resolve the paradoxes evolving out of such a dichotomy.

(d). However, it is a mistake to treat the Pashtuns residing in the frontier as members of timeless communities isolated from the modern world. In reality, they have networked successfully into national 30, regional and global systems. They work in Pakistan’s cities 31 and abroad – particularly in the Persian Gulf – and return hefty remittances 32.

(e). Human Resource Development indicators are lowest in the areas astride the Durand borderline. 33 FATA has many problems but educational conditions and impediments are its greatest nightmares. Educational poverty supersedes all poverties here. There are number of ghost schools, lack of modern and even traditional teaching facilities, and absence of a single university, medical, engineering or tangible vocational institutes which take back FATA to dark ages” 34. Literacy rate hovers between 10-17 percent with females further disadvantaged to around 3 percent 35. Health and social security are conspicuous by their scarcity. Pakistani governments have persistently failed to adequately invest in these sectors. Afghan governments have never had the means to do so. Because of this, trans-frontier economy in terms of infrastructure and education resembles more closely to Afghanistan than other regions of Pakistan 36.

(a). A multi-billion dollar informal trade of untaxed goods from Afghanistan into Pakistan remains one of the largest sources of income for groups living astride the Durand Line/ international border 37. This is a major burden on Pakistan’s economy and industrial growth. This alongside illicit trafficking is the chief driver for sustaining the status quo.

(b). The wars in Afghanistan have also brought about many changes, encouraging the development of new social, political, and economic links on both sides of the frontier. At least 20 new trans-frontier roads were built during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, thus creating new linkages 38.

(c). Flow of Afghan refugees during various turmoils in Afghanistan has had a profound impact on people to people contacts 39 with their high and low sides.

(d). There has been rising importance of religious leaders and parties coupled with a significant increase in inflow of foreign individuals, finances and influence. The decision making power in Jirga has slowly and quietly shifted from political to religious elders 40.

Because of these difficulties, one tends to conclude that apparently time is not yet ripe for achieving a mutually acceptable bilateral border agreement, even though the border’s current status remains the key irritant troubling Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. Hence for the foreseeable future, borderlands may be poised to stay as they are, unless Pakistan goes ahead with its unilateral actions to manage the border, even if Afghanistan does not do it. At the same time, Afghanistan and Pakistan are under obligation by “United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373” to “deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts, from using their respective territories for those purposes against other states or their citizens.”

Managing the Borders/Borderlands

To discharge their responsibility towards the international community, Afghanistan and Pakistan need to effectively manage their borders. Neither can afford to abdicate this responsibility and hope that criminals, terrorists and third party state and non-state actors would abide by some voluntary code of conduct and desist from undertaking their nefarious pursuits. For evolving a viable border management mechanism, three important questions need attention. How could better management of the Pak Afghan border lead to improved bilateral relations and facilitate peace through transnational mobility and integration for the benefit of the masses on the Pak-Afghan Borderlands? What are the issues involved in Pak-Afghan border management? And what should be the major facets of the policy related to it?

Historically, the Pak-Afghan border has functioned as a “Region”, and not as a dividing ‘line’. Over time, it has remained a transitory, hybrid area negotiated daily by diverse actors such as tribes or common people living astride the border: refugees, migrants, traders, labourers, smugglers, militants, as well as security forces. It has not served as a “frontier of separation” but rather as a “frontier of contact”.

Pakistan has traditionally followed benevolent border management practices towards Afghanistan even at the cost of great socio-economic costs and security concerns. Whenever our Afghan brethren were under pressure due to foreign invasions the governments and people of Pakistan welcomed them in numbers. As a result of prolongation of this process the borders came to exist only on paper. But with the threat of terrorism and the advantage being taken by third parties the preposition of unregulated borders is no longer tenable.

Existing Border Management Mechanism

As of now, no coherent border management mechanism exists to coordinate border management issues on both sides of the border. On Pakistan’s side, protection of borders falls under the realm of the Ministry of Interior. On the Afghan side the Afghan Border Police does this job. On Pakistan’s side, a paramilitary force called Frontier Corps (provincial contingents for KP and Balochistan), have been tasked to manage the border through their deployment along the border 41. Owing to ongoing military operations, Army units have also been deployed to keep a check on border violations 42. The enormity of the task in the recent years has led to substantial expansion in the strength of Frontier Corps 43. The Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) and the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) also have their setups on certain established crossing points for customs and immigration management, respectively.

Nominal management of border is carried out at notified crossing points, un-notified crossing routes and border outposts. Besides notified crossing points, there are 62 un-notified crossing routes which ruthlessly restricts the scope and extent of border management. On daily basis, roughly 30,000– 50,000 trans-border commuters use these paths. In addition, a large number of passes and un-notified pathways are illegally used by the people which include drug pushers, smugglers, organized criminals, etc. Chaman and Torkham are the only two developed crossing points with requisite facilities. However, Ghulam Khan, Kharlachi and Angoor Adda are also being developed with adequate facilities.

International Best Practices

In the realm of border management, one size does not fit all. Each country adopts its own pattern of border management compatible with on-ground requirements. A balance has to be drawn between security concerns and socio-economic benefits. Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland have a unique makeup, hence it requires a special border management framework. Some of the models that could be analyzed and borrowed from are:-

  • Pakistan – India border
  • The US-Canada/Mexico border
  • Turkey-Syria border
  • Afghan-Iran border
  • The EU Model

India’s Unilateral Approach Model

India has adopted a “Unilateral Approach” 44 to deal with border management challenges with predominance of a “security-first approach”. It focuses on preventing entry into the country from outside and often disregards concerns of neighbours, making its borders fortified zones with observation posts, defence positions, physical barriers, and heavily armed response forces. India has deployed nearly 191 battalions of border-guarding forces 45 and established a string of Border Posts with 4600 Kilometers of fence (2100 KM are floodlit). Motor-able roads have also been constructed along these fences. For regulation of the Borders, India is undertaking the establishment of several Land Custom Stations (LCSs) to monitor designated ‘Transit Points’ along its international borders. These Land Custom Posts will house immigration, customs, narcotics control bureau, police and border guarding forces. It is also developing an Immigration, Visa & Foreigners’ Registration and Tracking (IVFRT) system.

American Concept of ‘Smart Borders’

The US has developed the concept of ‘smart borders’, which is a layered inspection system to reduce congestion along land, air and sea ports of entry. It is primarily a cooperative control mechanism which looks both ways i.e. “defense of one’s own borders will help neighboring country and vice versa”. Besides jointly developing border infrastructure, Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BESTs) have been constituted to improve coordination and information sharing between the Law Enforcement Agencies of the US, Canada & Mexico 46.

As part of this approach, ‘Prevention through dominance’ has been the strategy 47. Nearly 20,202 border patrol agents are deployed along borders on forward operational bases and outposts. Over 1078 KM of fences have been erected along the US-Mexico border; fence is floodlit and roads are built for better mobility.

Secure Border Initiative Net (SBInet), commonly referred to as a “virtual fence” was launched in 2007. The purpose of ‘Virtual Fencing’ is detection and tracking through a combination of ground-based sensors 48 and a ground/ air surveillance integrated command & control system.

For regulating frequent travelers across borders, the US has introduced a special Entry Card system called NEXUS & SENTRI along the Canadian and Mexican borders, respectively. These cardholders can cross the border quickly with minimal checking through dedicated lanes.

However, it is noteworthy that despite spending billions of dollars and use of the world’s best technology, a strong lobby in the US still believes that “US has poorest of borders”; The US president, Donald Trump, has vowed to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and has raised genuine concerns about the adequacy of the immigration system.

Turkey-Syria Border Management

Due to the Syrian civil war, the Kurds issue and the ISIS factor, Turkey has implemented a “zero tolerance” policy against border crossings of foreign fighters alongside an “open door policy for refugees”. Turkey is also undertaking active measures to upgrade its border management system with an integrated system. Europe’s Integrated Border Management System (ESYS) was launched in 2003 to harmonize Turkey’s borders with the Schengen region; however, the initiative ran into certain problems. Later a revised document for “Protection of External Borders” was signed between EU and Turkey. The cost of the project is 8 Billion Euros with completion date in 2018. The Turkish Ministry of Interior is heading the project with a “Border Security Directorate General” comprising of 70,000 persons led by a civilian head equivalent to a governor. Turkey has dug approximately 330 KM trenches, created 60 km of earth berms, 160 KM of razor wire barriers, built about a 13 KM wall and has illuminated 267 km of its borderline. Moreover, the border is also being equipped with thermal cameras and night vision system, drones and other surveillance systems.

Iran’s Border with Afghanistan

The Iranian strategy is “Going at it Alone” 49. Iran shares a 936 KM long border with Afghanistan and has five official crossing points along it. However, there are numerous unofficial crossings due to the porous nature of the border. Moreover, diversity of terrain offers a number of slipping opportunities to illegal line crossers and Europe borne illegal immigrants. The Iranian Ministry of Interior is responsible for border management. Iran has created a five-tier border security system to control her border with Afghanistan. Important features of Iran-Afghanistan border security include: –

  • Management / control through a Border Security Force which is deployed against illegal movement of refugees / migrants, smugglers and narcotics operators 50.
  • Mirsaad Force elements which are basically for control of narcotics smuggling 51, like Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF).
  • Construction of an Obstacle/barrier system in selected areas.
  • Integration of allied facilities like customs and immigrations 52.
  • Strict Intelligence coverage 53.
  • Construction of 800 KM ditches, 45 KM concrete walls, 140 KM of razor wire and 400 KM of embankments.

The EU Model

Within Schengen there are no interstate borders. Their composite external border is taken as an international border 54, and it is managed accordingly. It offers a benevolent and movement friendly model. However, keeping in view the current surge in refugees, European countries have taken a step back in 2016 and have instituted certain restrictions 55.

Takeaways from International Best Practices

A bilaterally or multilaterally agreed cooperative and integrated border control mechanism is an ideal choice, however it demands a consensus of stakeholders and uniform technological capacity. Developed countries have moved to highly integrated border management systems 56 where one agency has taken over the lead control for management of all border issues.

Mechanisms like free visa on arrival, long term visa for frequent travelers like traders, businessmen, academia, students, scholars and workers on the lines of US-Canada/Mexico border 57 or China Hong Kong border can be introduced for Pak-Afghan frequent travelers. Razor wires, fences, canals, trenches and other physical barriers may be critical for deterrence in selected areas, however, they can be negotiated in the absence of effective surveillance 58. The evolving trend is to enhance technological and surveillance systems to support their associated physical barrier systems. Effective border security measures have helped Turkey to minimize security risks, but a permanent solution will only be possible with the end of the Syrian civil war. Similarly, the situation is unlikely to improve beyond certain limits at the Pak-Afghan border until peace is restored in Afghanistan.

Pending the evolution of a cooperative and bilaterally agreed border control mechanism between the two, a combination of Indian and Iranian models i.e. “Unilateral Approach” and “Going at it Alone” seems a viable model for Pakistan 59.


Much to the chagrin of globalization advocates, border barriers are becoming more common; so are immigration and travel restrictions 60. In a nutshell, borders continue to persist, and border crossings are likely to become more difficult 61. The issue of border management prominently figures out as one of the overriding factors straining bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan 62 and is a major cause for instability in the border regions. Afghanistan’s perspective on the Pak-Afghan border does not hold any legitimacy internationally, however, due to the hard position taken by successive Afghan governments, this issue is likely to continue hampering Pakistan’s efforts to put together a mutually agreed and synergized border regulation mechanism. An often-raised point of whether border management should precede setting up of economic uplift projects or vice versa is a catch 22 situation. It is a considered opinion that both could begin simultaneously.

In the overall perspective, the Pak-Afghan border should be seen as a medium of pragmatic goodwill and a positive leverage by both sides – especially in the people’s context – rather than as an instrument or pretext for conflict brewing. Socio-economic development of border region coupled with political, legal and administrative reforms of borderlands is a prerequisite for peace, stability and progress.

Once peace returns to Afghanistan, the interim stringent measures would become superfluous and their continuation would be nothing but an overkill. At that point and time both the countries should and must relax undue restrictions and adopt a model close to the European Union or that of US-Canada.


1- Shamshad Ahmad, “Post-9/11 Foreign Policy of Pakistan”, Criterion Quarterly, Vol 1 No 1. Posted on September 27, 2013 in Articles.

2- Montague Lord and Pawat Tangtrongita, “Special Border Economic Zone (SBEZ) in the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT)”, May 15. 2014.p. 4-9. . This study was carried out under technical assistance provided by the Asian Development Bank.

3- Ibid.

4-“S. 496 (111th): Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2009”. . This bill was introduced on February 26, 2009, in a previous session of Congress, but was not enacted.

5- Ibid.

6- Durand Line Agreement, Khyber Watch, Pakhtun Forums, Khyber Gateway,

7- “The Durand Line: History, Consequences, and Future”, “Report of a Conference Organized in July 2007 by the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies and the Hollings Center in Istanbul, Turkey November 2007”.

8- Ahmer Bilal  Soofi,  “Pakistan-Afghanistan  Border  Management:  A  Legal Perspective”, Citizens’ Periodic Reports on the Performance of State Institutions and Practices, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency, Islamabad, March 2015. WWW.PILDAT.ORG

9- Ibid.

10- Ibid.

11- Ibid.

12. Rahimullah Yusufzai, “Durand line or border” The News on Sunday, June 26, 2016,

13- Ibid.

14- Ibid.

15- Ibid.

16- Ibid.

17- Ahmer Bilal Soofi , “Pakistan-Afghanistan Border Management: A Legal Perspective”, Citizens’ Periodic Reports on the Performance of State Institutions and Practices, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency, Islamabad, March 2015. WWW.PILDAT.ORG

18- Ibid.

19- “The Durand Line: History, Consequences, and Future”, “Report of a Conference Organized in July 2007 by the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies and the Hollings Center in Istanbul, Turkey November 2007”. P-6.

20- “The Frontier Crimes Regulations (Amended in 2011)”, The Institute for SocialJustice, Islamabad,

21- Ibid.

22- Mian Abrar, “FCR amended, political parties allowed in Tribal Areas” Pakistan Today, National, August 13, 2011.

23- “Pakistani general election, 2013”, WikiVisually,,_2013

24- Ismail Khan, “Reforms proposed for Fata’s merger into KP”, Dawn, June 13, 2016.

25- US Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism”, Chapter 5 — Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report), April 30, 2007. Archived Content.

26- Zafar R. Siddiquib, “Pashtunwali—Law for the lawless, defense for the stateless”,International Review of Law and Economics, Volume 37, March 2014, Pages108-120.

27- “Stateless society”, WikiVisually, society

28- Marco Costantini, “Ibn Khaldun and the Philosophy of Modern History”, April 7, 2015. History on the Rocks,  .

29- Makamla Mnungu, “Development Studies/International Relations”, Atlantic International University, Press Room, Student Publications.

30- “Pashtuns”, WikiVisually,

31- Ibid.

32- Ibid.

33- US Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism”, Chapter 5 — Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report), April 30, 2007. Archived Content.

34- Nazakat Awan, “Education Data”, Pakistan Annual Research Journal, 49, 2013

35- Ibid.

36- “The Durand Line: History, Consequences, and Future”, Report of a Conference Organized in July 2007 by the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies and the Hollings Center in Istanbul, Turkey November 2007. P-11.

37- Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal, “Pakistan’s Traditional and Non -Traditional Challenges” Chapter 13 in “ “Pakistan’s Strategic Environment: Post 2014” (IPRI-HSF Conference Proceedings: 2014).

38- “The Durand Line: History, Consequences, and Future”, “Report of a Conference Organized in July 2007 by the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies and the Hollings Center in Istanbul, Turkey November 2007”. P-11.

39- Ibid.

40- Ibid.

41- US Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism”, Chapter 5 — Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report), April 30, 2007. Archived Content.

42- Ibid.

43- Ibid.

44- Pushpita Das, “Managing India’s Land Boundaries: Lessons from the United States Experience”,

45- Ibid.

46- Mayra Sacanamboy, Bojan Cukic, “Performance and Risk Analysis for Border Management Applications: A Model-Driven Approach and a Perspective View”, 2012 European Intelligence and Security Informatics Conference, (Lane Department of CSEE, West Virginia University, USA; 2012) 350-355.

47- Franks G. et al., “Layered Queuing Network Solver and Simulator User Manual”. Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, 2005

48- Sacanamboy, M., Cukic, B., “Combined performance and risk analysis for border management applications” Proc. of DSN 2010, pp. 403-412.

49- Ekaterina Stepanova, “Iran and Afghanistan: Cross Border Security Challenges, Conflict Management, and Iran-U.S. Relations”, Policy Memo: 56, May 2009.

50- Gerard McLinden, Enrique Fanta, David Widdowson and Thomas Doyle, Ed., “Border Management Modernization: A Practical Guide for Reformers”, Conference Edition. The World Bank, International Trade Department. P 6-11.

51- “Islamic Republic of Iran Border Guard”,

52- Gerard McLinden, Ed., “Border Management Modernization: A Practical Guide for Reformers”, p-12.

53- Ibid.

54- Milan Bufon ,“ Engineering Borders and Border Landscapes: The Schengen Regime and the EU’s New Internal and External Boundaries in Central-Eastern Europe”, in Stanley D. Brunn Ed., ” Engineering Earth The Impacts of Mega-engineering Projects”, ISBN: 978-90-481-9919-8 (Print) 978-90-481-9920-4 (Online).

55- Tal Dingott Alkopher,“Schengen area shaken: the impact of immigration-related threat perceptions on the European security community”, Journal of InternationalRelations and Development, July 2017, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 511–542.F irstOnline: 11 July 2016, Springer Link,

56- Lynette M. Parker, “The Ethics of Migration and Immigration” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University.

57- “AFF – Mexico Guest Workers-BHHM-SDI 2013-Paperless”,

58- DoaaÕ Hamdi El Nakhala, “Walls and Fences: the Making of Good Neighbors?”, Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin, May 2014. P 1-7.

59- Ahmer Bilal, Soofi, “A Law for Crossing the Durand Line?”, 150820 – A Law for Crossing the Durand Line, Research Society of International Law (RSIL), Pakistan, also carried by The News, October 08, 2011,

60- Michael Forman, “Reflections on Borders and Crossings”, Roundtable: On Borders, September 4, 2017, The Mantale,

61- Ibid.

62. Rahimullah Yusufzai, “Durand line or border” The News on Sunday, June 26, 2016,