?.. by Shahzadi Sofia Baig
How much difference a year makes. Not too long ago US President Trump gushed to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he had the greatest of admiration for Pakistan and Pakistanis, ?Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities?? or, ?Please convey to the Pakistani people that they are amazing and all Pakistanis I know are exceptional people.?
Many Pakistanis overseas have reacted with confusion, hurt and dismay over recent pronouncements by US President Trump, Vice President Pence and other US governmental officials threatening the suspension of aid and unilateral action again Pakistan unless more is done to deal with alleged terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. Despite the innumerable sacrifices made by Pakistani civilian and soldiers in lives lost, the material costs of fighting terrorism and the damage done to all aspects of Pakistani society, the tired ?do more mantra? finally provoked Pakistan to speak for itself. As rightly pointed out, no nation has suffered more from the instability and turmoil in Afghanistan. Moreover, Pakistan did not expect such a statement from an ally. Pakistan denies that its soil is a base for any terrorist groups but rather it is the lawless border region beyond in Afghanistan which is the source of such activity, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Kabul?s writ is largely non-existent in large swathes of that country and to lay blame on Pakistan finds no takers in this country. No one wants this nation to be made a scape goat or whipping boy for the failures of the Western powers in Afghanistan. A detailed list of terrorism related costs incurred by Pakistan is part of a media offensive that has garnered a great deal of attention in the world and is even cited by those who have come to this country?s defense such as Turkey and China. No amount of disinformation being spread by Indian or Afghan officials can deny this narrative.
Giving credit where credit is due, the Pakistani military is carrying out a project which is largely unknown to the Western media. The difficult and largely porous border with Afghanistan is finally being secured with fencing, border posts and surveillance equipment being installed along its over 2400 kilometre length. The move will address mutual security concerns and allow for the regulated movement of people and goods across the border. Granted border control will be more challenging along terrain in Chitral but the ?chowni? or border posts being constructed will finally give locals a greater sense of safety given the not infrequent incursions from neighboring Kunar, Nooristan or Badakhshan.
Intelligence based operations being carried out in Pakistan re enforce the reality that most Pakistanis already know. Namely, the majority of terrorism related incidents being carried out in Pakistan, particularly in KPK and Baluchistan are being planned and orchestrated from operatives based across the border in Afghanistan and India. Moreover, they are being carried out largely by foreign nationals and funded by foreign sources. The horrific 2014 Army Public School massacre involving six gunmen all of whom were foreigners was a watershed moment after which there was greater resolve on the part of all sections of society . Despite a lull in terrorism, there can be no foolproof safety against isolated acts as we saw earlier this week with the unfortunate death of five Baluchistan Constabulary personnel. Among those recently apprehended by the Frontier Corps in the wake of this crime were eight illegal Afghan refugees along with weapons such as rockets and IEDs. The largely decent and law abiding Afghan refugee population who has been living with dignity in Pakistan for the last few decades has suffered a backlash from the general public who are pushing for forced repatriation. How can these people, many of whom are born and brought up in Pakistan be forcibly repatriated? They too are victims and rather than forcibly repatriating Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan, authorities should identify elements among the refugee population who are putting their collective reputation in jeopardy. I am sure the millions of law abiding Afghan refugees who are in Pakistan also welcome the enhanced measures being taken to secure the Pakistan- Afghanistan border.
The United States should appreciate that the majority of costs being born in Pakistan?s fight including the cost of constructing an effective border control are being born by Pakistan from its own limited resources. The pittance given in Coalition Support Funds and in aid hardly compensates the nation for its cumulative losses from the time of the Soviet invasion when Pakistan was used as a front line state. Rather than apportion blame, obfuscate and callously point fingers, American officials need to engage with Pakistan in a meaningful way to bring peace to region.
In the last few years, we have witnessed a world which has shifted from globalization to more isolationist policies. In the run up to US Presidential elections, President Trump promised to build ?an impenetrable, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall? which would traverse the United States? boundary with Mexico keeping out migrants and refugees. He estimated the cost to be some 10 billion dollars which would be financed by Mexico through tariffs. The US President has since made repeated reference to the necessity of such as a wall. In his immigration meetings this week he admonished his political rivals as being, ?? intent on having people and drugs pour into our country from the Southern border, risking thousands of lives in the process. It is my duty to protect the lives and safety of all Americans? We must build a great wall.?
With this dominant discourse being accepted in the United States, Pakistan?s case for strong effective border control including a physical barrier with Afghanistan to keep out criminals and drugs should find easy acceptance. Moreover, while Mexico is being coerced to finance the construction of the US border wall, Pakistan should co-opt to have the United States and Western forces in Afghanistan fund its portion of the wall with enhanced security features. To date, costs of the Pakistan?Afghanistan border construction has been borne by Pakistan alone but Coalition Support Funds and expenses paid for services to Pakistan could be increased to include a tariff to fund the border barrier with Afghanistan. To borrow President Trump?s own words, this would help Pakistan create its own ?impenetrable, physical, tall, beautiful? barrier with Afghanistan. Undocumented movement of people and goods across the border would be brought under control. This will ensure that the finger pointing will end once and for all while efforts are made to reach a meaningful peace in the region which is to everyone?s benefit.? .. Shazadi Sofia Baig, 13 Jan 2018?