In a geopolitically complex and interdependent world, states cooperate to ensure their survival while prospering by cooperating and strengthening their economic independence. Pakistan and Afghanistan are two brotherly neighboring countries that share a 2610 km long border that the Pakistan Army fenced in response to the imperative need to counter cross-border mobilization of militants, unauthorized movement of people from both sides and the illicit activities of human trafficking, drug trafficking, and smuggling.
With approximately 2602 km of the border successfully fortified through fencing, several government agencies are working to ensure its robust security and efficient management.
Yet, it is important to acknowledge that despite these diligent endeavors, certain vulnerabilities continue to persist, impeding Pakistan from fully capitalizing on the comprehensive advantages owing to which fencing of the Pak-Afghan border was initially perceived.
Across the world, states manage their borders through the application of their respective Border Management Systems. The EU has been working on an integrated border management approach through its Schengen Area. Canada has implemented the CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) Assessment and Revenue Management (CARM) project, which aims to modernize and integrate the border management processes.
Australia has implemented the Integrated Cargo System (ICS), which facilitates the electronic lodgement of information and documents for importing and exporting goods. South Africa’s Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) is used for identity verification at border control points. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency uses various integrated systems, such as the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), to manage trade and security at the border.
Yet, all these border management systems were implemented under a controlled environment with primarily minimal or, in some cases, no differences with the neighboring state. Bilateral and transit trade is facilitated while the host country eases the communities living alongside the bordering region.
Pakistan has also deployed an Integrated Border Management System (IBMS) at immigration checkposts and airports, which would help verify passports and Pakistani visas.
It would enable instant identification of documents and persons and improve the document reading system through optical character recognition. The system is completely integrated with the National and Database Registration Authority (NADRA), Directorate of Passport and Immigration, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Police, and others. At the same time, it is also equipped to address misconduct and misuse of powers. While the application of IBMS is a valuable effort by the Government of Pakistan, challenges persist at Pakistan’s western border.
The reality that the Pak-Afghan border is political cannot be ignored and overlooked. This border delineates the territorial limits between Pakistan and Afghanistan and is crucial in shaping their bilateral relations, security dynamics, and regional geopolitics. Any dire situation in Afghanistan or Pakistan has direct implications for the other state, resulting in the initial response of closure of border entry points impacting millions of people from both sides.
Over the last seven decades, the political leadership has predominantly dealt with the Pak-Afghan border, which has refrained both sides from effectively benefiting from it. Neither Pakistan has benefitted to its full capacity from its transit trade through Afghanistan to Central Asian states; neither Afghanistan has been able to fully reap benefits from its transit trade to Pakistan’s maritime boundaries or India. Such a gloomy state of affairs requires an approach that may help benefit both states from their respective boundaries.
A Comprehensive Border Management Framework (CBMF) is proposed for the Pak-Afghan Border that encompasses the elements of Politics and Diplomatic Engagement, Economic Cooperation, Security and Intelligence Cooperation, Refugee Management, Cooperation for Regional Integration, Socio-Cultural Issues and Introduction of Technological Devices on Border Crossings. This framework is designed to be Sustainable, Flexible, Practicable, and Consistent.
This framework proposes that Tier-II and Tier-III dialogue needs to be initiated between Pakistan and Afghanistan on a bi-annual basis to resolve the outstanding disputes and enhance bilateral cooperation, while the policies devised must be recognized and adopted by MOFA, MoI, and MoD. The approach of the blame game needs to be replaced with economic cooperation and the phenomenon of multilateralism. Pakistan must not intervene in the internal affairs of Afghanistan since it is an independent state and is capable of making its own decisions.
Formal and Informal Coordination needs to be established in terms of Intelligence and Security Cooperation since it has served as the basis of conflict between the two sides over the last two decades.
Joint actions for the surveillance of a fenced bordering region are the need of the time. AI models need to be integrated to restrict the movement of militants. Scrutiny of goods and containers should be done under the supervision of a team of officers from both sides of the border.
The institutional arrangement of agencies working at the border should be by the share of work they are contributing at the border while an inter-institutional mechanism to control the corruption amongst the officers serving at the border needs to be established. Return of Afghan refugees based in Pakistan needs to be facilitated and encouraged through monetary benefits in collaboration with UNHCR and IAE government in Afghanistan while subsequently, Afghan refugees who are applying for citizenship in Pakistan must be granted in accordance with the Refugee Convention of 1951 since they can effectively contribute to the economy of Pakistan by being the legal taxpayers.
The measures mentioned earlier highlight some of the proposed policy frameworks of CBMF. While much needs to be done to reap maximized benefits from the Pak-Afghan border, strengthening political ties with the IEA government in Afghanistan can be an initiating point, eventually leading to an improved relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The writer is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in International Relations at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad.