TORKHAM: Days before the deadly attack on Bacha Khan University Campus in Charsadda, four militants, in groups of twos, quietly crossed the regular border-crossing at Torkham, without any checks or hindrances, security officials have confirmed.
“Had there been a proper system there, at least two of them would have been caught there and then. The whole plot would have been unearthed before they could carry out the attack,” a senior security official said.
Two of the four attackers in the Jan 20 assault on BKU were identified through the biometric system with the National Database and Registration Authority. One was from Swat and the other from Sararogha in South Waziristan. Both had been issued CNICs.
“We would have stopped and asked them a few questions. We would have asked why a Swati boy or a Waziristani boy crossing over from Afghanistan via Torkham. What business had they there?” the official said.
“But the tragedy is that while we continue to impress upon unyielding Afghans for tighter border control and tighter border management, we don’t do a fig about border management on our side of the Durand,” an exasperated security official said. “Our pleas fall on deaf ears.”
The border-crossing at Torkham in Khyber tribal region is one of the two regular crossings with Afghanistan, the other being Chaman in Balochistan.
The scene at Torkham can best be described as chaotic. Thousands of people cross the border from both sides with little or no check at all, both Afghans and locals.
Officials concede it’s not humanly possible to check every Afghan entering Pakistan
At least four state institutions and agencies assigned the task to keep a strict vigil on suspects at the border have no clue as to how many people cross the border on any given day, their head count is mostly based on ‘assumptions’.
“It could be between 10,000 and 15,000 daily,” a security official posted at the border guessed. An official of another security agency thought the figure could be 25,000 and 28,000 while just a few hundreds of them have proper visas and passports, he added.
Those without legal travel documents, and their number runs into thousands a day, are at the mercy of Khasadar, personnel of the paramilitary and security agencies in plainclothes alongside activists of so-called Zakhakhel peace committee and some renegades from the Bara-based banned militant organisation Lashkar-i-Islam, now siding with the government.
A Khasadar official said that activists of the banned group and so-called peace committee were assigned the responsibility to identify their ‘former colleagues’ if and when they try to enter Pakistan or try to flee to Afghanistan. He was, however, unable to share the number of those suspects who were identified by the former activists of banned groups.
Interestingly, while the state agencies and officials posted at the border routinely accuse each other of mismanagement, one official of an intelligence agency described the occasional, rudimentary checking as ‘a broad daylight extortion’ of all the Afghans, irrespective of their gender who enter Pakistan, no matter with or without legal travel documents.
“Only the army can manage the border affairs properly as they have the ability to clear the mess,” another official of the so-called secret agency suggested while requesting not to be named.
This reporter saw border guards engaged in grabbing their share of the money the Afghans were willing to offer in return for exemption from extensive body search and travel documents.
Officials conceded that it was not humanly possible for them to check and quiz each and every Afghan entering Pakistan. “People living close to the border on both sides use the border-crossing for multiple purposes for a number of times on a daily basis and thus we avoid laying a hand on such people,” the official said.
New registration points
The Khyber Agency’s political administration announced a week after the terrorist attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda that it had established at least five new registration points at Torkham border to keep proper record of all the Afghans entering Pakistan.
But the staff posted at these registration points were found to be ill-trained and less informed about their responsibilities. The administration had provided them with a pro forma where they were required to manually register the name, father’s name, area to which the traveller belonged to in Afghanistan, purpose of visit to Pakistan, destination and duration of stay of all the Afghans entering Pakistan.
The poor staff had no knowledge whom they were required to submit their manual data nor had they any knowledge about the actual purpose of collecting such vital information.
The political administration had in September last year also introduced the one-time Rahdari system (route permit) to Afghans with the assistance of National Database and Registration Authority. Officials said that so far only 5,629 cards have been issued to the Afghans who had applied for it while another 3,300 were under process.
Under the new system, all Afghans and Pakistanis aspiring to travel to the two neighbouring countries were required to acquire the card for a specific period of time with the official of political administration authorised to issue or reject the card and also to determine the period of stay for Afghans on Pakistan soil.
Nadra officials working on at least seven booths told Dawn that on an average 150 Afghan nationals applied for the Rahdari card for which they were required to submit to them their Afghan nationality card or the card issued to them by UNHCR and a local (resident of Khyber Agency) guarantor who must possess his computerized national identity card. “A Pakistani wishing to cross over to Afghanistan has to submit his CNIC number only,” the Nadra officials said.
However, Afghans waiting for submission of their application for the Rahdari card accused the local officials of demanding gratification from them in return of these cards. Officials were quick to deny these allegations and said that proper care was taken in issuing these cards as all the information furnished to them were electronically processed and entered into their national data in Islamabad for any future investigation about any suspect.
But the main issue, security officials say, were the thousands of people who enter the border unregulated, most of them Afghans, but some militants also sneak through, unchecked. “This is a matter of national security and resources and man-power should not be an excuse”, the official said.
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2016