QUETTA, Pakistan (News Lens Pakistan) -- Pakistan has almost completed a security trench along a portion of its Afghan border, but critics say that not only will it fail to increase security, it will exacerbate tensions between the two countries.
Pakistan's 470-mile trench along part of the Durand Line, dividing the two countries, is nearly complete, said Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti. He told reporters that two-thirds of the trench was finished, with only 160 miles remaining. Bugti said that without the trench, that stretch of border would remain insecure.
The Durand Line was hastily drawn by the British in 1893 with agreement from Afghanistan. In 1949, the Afghans unilaterally cancelled the agreement and the boundary has been a point of dispute ever since.
The issue is contentious enough in Afghanistan that the border is often invoked as a rallying point for politicians. The trench, which is eight feet deep and 10 feet wide, is being dug along a small portion of the border between Balochistan and the Afghan province of Kandahar to prevent militants from crossing the border.
Sen. Abdul Rauf Khan, a member of Pakistan's Senate Defense Committee, told News Lens Pakistan that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are faced with insecurity, which has resulted in a large number of deaths in both countries.
"The poor security situation is a concern for the two neighboring nations, and they have planned taking joint steps to counter these militant groups. The trench along the border is part of such plans," Khan said.
According to the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, 401,209 people cross at the Torkham checkpoint weekly while at another checkpoint, Spin Boldak, the number is 224,480. Daroo Khan Achakzai, vice president of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Pakistan and Afghanistan conduct about $10 billion in trade annually, which comes through these two checkpoints.
The Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force that is doing the work on the trench, has said the project has cost an estimated $2.6 million so far.
Not everyone agrees the trench is only about security.
According to an official from the Afghan National Security Forces Border Police, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the trench is simply a way for Pakistan to show the outside world it is doing something to counter militancy. He says the trench will separate the local ethnic Pashtun population that lives on either side of the border and has regularly crossed unimpeded.
"The trench will never work for peace in the region; it will surely divide peaceful masses living across the bordering regions," he told News Lens Pakistan.
Mohammad Taqi, a writer and analyst who focuses on militancy in the region, said, "Pakistan certainly wants to turn the Durand Line into the permanent international border. The trench along Durand is part of the plan."
However, Taqi says, the trench still will not address the key problem: "I'd ask how does the trench do anything about the Quetta Shura and Peshawar Shura Taliban, who are at least 60 miles inside Pakistan and not on the Durand line."
The Quetta Shura is made up of the senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban, headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Peshawar Shura is a regional military branch of the Afghan Taliban focused on operations inside Afghanistan.
Mahmood Shah, a security and defense analyst and a former secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, says concerns about the legality or permanence of the border are irrelevant. He says while the Afghan government did have an issue recognizing Pakistan, it eventually accepted the reality of Pakistan's existence.
"U.N. and international law exist. Pakistan is a sovereign nation having its permanent boundaries with all neighboring nations, including Afghanistan," he said.