Trump's desire for border wall finds echo in Islamabad

Trump's desire for border wall finds echo in Islamabad
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*NORTH WAZIRISTAN:* Trump administration and national security officials in Pakistan don’t see eye to eye on issues these days — save, perhaps, for one.

Trump’s desire for a border wall is finding a distinct echo thousands of miles away in Islamabad, where top military leaders often cite the US president’s case for walling off the nation’s southern border with Mexico to defend Pakistan’s efforts to seal its porous border territories with Afghanistan , reported *The Washington Times. link*

“Why is the US looking at a border wall in Mexico? Because you need it. We need it in Pakistan as well,” Major General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum, inspector general of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps for Balochistan, said of the drive to erect a fence along the contested border with Afghanistan .

“It is the simplest solution in the history of the world,” he said.

Pakistani forces have begun lining the nearly 500 miles of its shared border with Afghanistan with chain-link fence and concertina wire, initially focused on cutting off access across the rugged terrain in North Waziristan.

The move has outraged the Kabul government, which has never recognised the Durand Line as the official border.

Standing on the parapets of Fort Kitton-2, one of several large Pakistani forts along the “zero line” between North Waziristan and Afghanistan’s Khost province, an observer can pick out long strands of shimmering metal and barbed wire crisscrossing the various peaks and valleys up to the horizon.

Troops from Pakistan’s Tochi Scouts, the Frontier Corps unit guarding the North Waziristan line, man small mud-brick outposts spaced evenly along the border fence. Pakistan’s 7th Army Division jointly patrols the volatile border regions in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including North Waziristan.

Islamabad plans to have the country’s entire 515-mile border with Afghanistan sealed off by next year, said General Nadeem, head of the Frontier Corps’ Chaman Scouts. The Scouts are responsible for a majority of the Afghan-Pakistani border belt that cuts between Pakistan’s Balochistan province. “In three years, we will be able to completely seal this border,” he said during an interview at his headquarters in Chaman.

Gen Nadeem made his comments days before Trump’s first visit to California as president this month to inspect prototypes for his proposed border wall with Mexico. The promise to build a wall was a staple of Trump’s campaign speeches in 2016 and remains the linchpin of the administration’s immigration and border policy, despite congressional resistance to financing the estimated $25 billion project.

“We have a lousy wall over here now, but at least it stops 90, 95 per cent,” Trump said of illegal border crossings. “When we put up the real wall, we’re going to stop 99 per cent. Maybe more than that.”

But officials in the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani say a wall likely won’t work and won’t address the deeper problem of Islamabad’s treatment of militants within its territory.

A border wall is a “ridiculous” approach to the problem of extremist violence, Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar told reporters Thursday on a visit to Washington.

“The terrorists cannot be walled off,” he said a breakfast roundtable at the Afghan Embassy. “You cannot stop the extremists with a wall or a chain-link fence.”

Pakistan and Afghanistan would be better served by addressing the root causes of terrorism in the region — wealth disparities, government corruption and the tacit support of extremist ideologies for political purposes — rather than spending time, money and efforts on the wall, he argued. Pakistan, he claimed, has created its own “Frankenstein monster” by failing to deal with the terrorist groups.

*WALLING OFF TERRORISM:*

In Pakistan, the issue driving a border barrier with Afghanistan is not illegal immigration but terrorism and Kabul’s supposed ineffectiveness to control Islamist extremists from crossing the border and creating havoc in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s southern and eastern provinces, long seen as safe havens for insurgents who can operate on both sides of the border, were the last areas handed over to Afghan security forces when US and NATO troops transitioned to an advisory role at the end of 2014 under President Obama.

Pakistan has fielded just over 1,100 posts along the nearly 500 miles bordering Afghanistan’s southeastern provinces, which traditionally have been the sites of some of the toughest fighting, said Major General Azhar Ali Shah, head of all 7th Division forces in North Waziristan.

By comparison, Afghan forces have fielded only 145 border posts along the same stretch of territory, roughly a 7-1 ratio, Gen Azhar said, which has allowed extremists to flourish in the borderlands.

Pakistan said in December that it had completed 92 per cent of the border wall and hoped to finish it by the end of this year.

The Pakistani wall-building project has not protected Islamabad from increasingly sharp criticism from the Trump White House over its efforts to defeat the Taliban, Islamic State and other groups threatening Afghanistan .

Trump has lashed out at Pakistan on Twitter and in speeches over what he says is its continuing support for extremists.

He said the US had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the years and received nothing in return but “lies & deceit”. Islamabad, Trump has claimed, offers “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan”.

The decision at the end of last year to withhold $225 million in foreign assistance to Pakistan and suspend all military support marked a new low in US-Pakistani ties, which stretch back several decades.

Although US forces have crossed the Afghan border into Pakistan to pursue militants and terrorist targets — notably the 2011 Special Forces mission that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad — the Pentagon says there are no plans for major incursions as the Pakistani border wall goes up.

“We have no authority to go into Pakistan,” Pentagon spokesman Lt Col Mike Andrews has told the *Pajhwok Afghan News*. Any hot-pursuit missions against Taliban fighters seeking sanctuary inside Pakistan “would certainly be the exception and not the norm”.

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