ISLAMABAD, Dec 26: Pakistan has decided to put in place landmines and a fence along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as a ‘last resort’ to stop cross-border movement of terrorists, Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said on Tuesday.
“By taking such steps we want to show our intention to those who have been blaming Pakistan for not controlling the infiltration of the Taliban into Afghanistan,” said the minister at a function here. He said the government had already deployed 80,000 troops and established over 800 check posts on the border.
Expressing similar sentiments, Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan at the weekly Foreign Office briefing said that Islamabad had decided to “selectively” mine and fence the border with Afghanistan. It also planned to expand the deployment of Frontier Corps to prevent cross-border militant activity.
“In keeping with our policy to prevent any militant activity from Pakistan inside Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army has been tasked to work out modalities for selectively fencing and mining the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” said the foreign secretary.“We think these measures would be helpful and in the future if there are any further measures that we think are necessary we would be quite ready to undertake those,” he said.
Notably, the announcement about additional measures comes amid mounting complaints from Afghanistan, the US and Nato that Pakistan is not doing enough to help stabilise the situation in the border areas and the growing concern about tribal areas turning into safe havens for the Taliban and militants.
The foreign secretary said these measures would take into account the need for having designated crossing points to facilitate movement of people across the border under the ‘easement rights’ which the tribals had traditionally enjoyed in the area.
“Of course the population will also have to be fully informed about such measures so there are no untoward incidents,” he remarked. Mr Khan noted that it had also been decided to “strictly monitor” the Afghan refugee camps, adding that the government was expediting the process of registration of Afghan refugees which he hoped would complete soon.
“We also request the international community, specially the United Nations, to expedite refugees return to Afghanistan and to relocate some of the camps which are closer to the border and which have been cause of much contention to territories inside Afghanistan.”
To a question if Pakistan had reached an agreement with the Afghan government on fencing and mining of the border given that it had been opposed to these measures, his response was: “There is no question of an agreement in this regard as this is a measure that we will be taking on our side of the border.” He said Pakistan’s suggestion to take such measures had been well-known to all sides as it had been stated publicly a number of times.
When his attention was drawn to the international convention on mining, he said Pakistan like a number of other countries, including India, was not a signatory to the Ottawa Convention that forbids mining and added: “We understand the sentiment behind this convention but there is an extraordinary situation and we need extraordinary measures to respond to this”.
Defending Pakistan’s decision to fence segments of the border, he cited the example of fencing on the US-Mexico border to check cross-border movements. He argued that the move was a necessary measure to carry out Pakistan’s commitment that its territory would not be used for militancy inside Afghanistan.
When asked when implementation of fencing and mining plan would start, Mr Khan said: “The task which has been given to the armed forces is already in hand.” Indicating that the process would take some time, he maintained that while fencing was a more time-consuming process and also needed to be guarded as it could be tampered, mining was easier and could be done quite expeditiously in selective areas. However, he gave no timeline for it.
On whether Pakistan would seek international assistance for undertaking fencing and mining, Mr Khan said it had not thought about it but he did not rule it out, saying: “We can look into the pros and cons.” He then added: “We have not asked and so far we don’t intend to request the international community to help us in this regard.”
However, he stressed that where the international community could really help was in repatriation of Afghan refugees on urgent basis and come up with important initiatives and funds to expedite this.
On media reports that the US government had demanded of Pakistan fresh military operations in North and South Waziristan he said: “Well there is no such demand that I am aware of.” Mr Khan said the much commented North Waziristan peace agreement represented a very important policy on the part of Pakistan. “This policy is that in addition to military action or measures that may be necessary it is important to have a political and an administrative approach and socio-economic development plan and programmes,” he explained. This approach, he said, was also being replicated elsewhere in South Waziristan, Bajaur and other tribal agencies. He pointed out that raising of fresh levies and strengthening the institution of the political agent and the tribal Maliks were among the measures that the government had taken to address the problem of extremism which had affected these regions of Pakistan and also to combat terrorist elements there.
While mentioning the measures taken by Pakistan, including establishing of 700 check posts along the border with Afghanistan, he underscored that the responsibility for interdicting or preventing militancy was not the sole responsibility of Pakistan side but was equally the responsibility of the ISAF, Nato, and the Afghan forces.
He said apart from the army deployment Pakistan was very actively cooperating within the framework of the tripartite military commission and intelligence sharing through bilateral means between the concerned agencies of the two sides and also cooperation through Nato-ISAF related intelligence.
Mr Khan also emphasised the need for a Marshall Plan-like effort to help Afghanistan and declared: “Nothing short of that kind of an endeavour of that magnitude will make a difference.”
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Syed Kamal Shah told Dawn that fencing and land mining would not done at the whole 27,000kms border but at the most critical patches from where the movement of the Taliban could be possible.
Responding to a question that would the laying of land mines be a violation of the UN Geneva Convention, the official said: “There would be no bar on land mining if the areas, where it is put in place, are marked otherwise it is a violation of UN resolutions.”
The official said earlier Pakistan was not in favour of erecting fence or laying land mines, but now such steps were being taken as a last resort to ward off the apprehensions of the Afghan government that Pakistan was taking serious steps to control the cross border movement of the Taliban.
The interior minister in his statement in March this year had revealed that Pakistan will erect fence on the border as a "last resort' to check infiltration of terrorists.
He had said: "We are suffering from large scale poppy cultivation and gun running in Afghanistan and the Afghan government had no writ in some of its provinces to overcome the situation."
Afghanistan has reportedly asked Pakistan to increase security at the border by deploying more troops and erect fence.
Mr Sherpao said that Pakistani troops were effectively safeguarding the borders and the government was fully satisfied with their performance.
Responding to a question about the bomb blast in the car parking area of Peshawar International Airport that claimed the life of a man on Tuesday, the interior minister said investigations were under way to trace the people involved in the incident.
Answering to a query about the presidential elections in the country, he hoped that Gen Musharraf will win the elections by a huge margin if he asks for the vote from the present parliament or by any other in future. “I think there will be no strong candidate against President Gen Musharraf today or in future as nobody has courage to contest against him,” he claimed.