The Rise of Border Walls in South Asia -BY MARIA AMJAD
The countries of South Asia are using the United States and EU’s deterrence model of building walls and fences along the border, to deter cross-border terrorism, migration and human trafficking. However, this deterrence strategy will ultimately fail, just like it did in the United States and EU.
On 5th May 2017, Afghan security forces fired across the border at Chaman on Pakistani census workers and troops escorting them, killing nine and leaving thirty-three wounded. In the crossfire, Pakistani officials reported that six were killed on the Afghanistan’s side. This has led to the series of crossfires between both the armies across the Durand Line (Pakistan-Afghanistan Border), and in the recent incident of yesterday, Pakistan army claimed to kill fifty Afghan soldiers and over a hundred injured as a retortion to 5th May cross-border attack on Chaman. Two days earlier than the Chaman incident, India claimed that they have found two beheaded dead bodies of their soldiers near the Line of Control (LoC) who were brutally mutilated by Pakistan’s special forces. While both these countries have inculpated their western neighbor for the cross-border infiltration and terrorism, India faced an additional concern of cross-border migration and human trafficking of Bengalis and Rohingyas refugees from the India-Bangladesh border. This is precisely the reason that Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh declared at the end of the month of March that India plans to seal international borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh by 2018. Singh believes that it will help India to tackle the rising issue of terrorism and refugee crisis in the country. Just two days after this, Pakistan also announced that it is going to build a fence across the Durand line (Afghanistan Border) in order to stem the flow of violence across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both of these announcements have come at a time, when the debate on the border restrictions has already been in the limelight, mainly because of the United Stated president Donald Trump’s pledge to build a “giant wall” on the country’s border with Mexico and the usage of these restrictions as a tool to prevent the movement of refugees from Syria into Europe.
Why is this new trend of border walls emerging in South Asia? How different or similar is the border walls in this region from that of massive walls being built on the borders of the United States, Israel, and European countries? How these controversial border security projects are justified in their respective countries and what consequences these physical barriers have on the lives of those living in these newly securitized spaces?
In order to find answers to these questions, it is first important to understand the Professor of the University of Quebec, Montreal, Elisabeth Vallet’s categorization of the border walls of the 21st century. She believes that in recent years “three distinct types of walls have appeared, 1) anti-migration walls (most common), 2) anti-trafficking walls and 3) anti-terrorism walls.
With the increase in the cross-border infiltration, migration and human trafficking in South Asia, the demand for the building of fences have been increased as well, and the frustrated politicians have to spend exorbitant pecuniary awards to limit the cross-border activities in the region. Currently, there are three borders that are being fenced by their respective governments to attenuate the cross-border activities in the region.
On the eastern side, India is planning to construct the Indo-Bangladeshi barrier, a 3,406-kilometer (2,116 mi) fence of barbed wire and concrete just under 3 meters high, to prevent the cross-border immigration and human trafficking from Bangladesh. India shares a 4,096-kilometer (2,545-mile) -long international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world, including 262 km in Assam, 856 km in Tripura, 180 km in Mizoram, 443 km in Meghalaya, and 2,217 km in West Bengal. The Bangladeshi divisions of Dhaka, Khulans, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sylhet and Chittagong are situated along the border. A number of pillars mark the border between the two states. Small demarcated portions of the border are fenced on both sides. The Land Boundary Agreement to simplify the border was ratified by both India and Bangladesh on 7 May 2015.
In the Modi era, India is lubricating the bilateral relations with Bangladesh by building pipelines to wheel diesel under a 15-year supply agreement with Bangladesh. Furthermore, the rail and road linkages being made available for transport of people and goods across the India-Bangladesh border is another boost in the relations. Apart from all this, the civil nuclear cooperation and military aid to Bangladesh are all meant to foster strong bilateral relations. However, the radicalisation of Bangladesh Muslims and their inclusion into the ranks of jihadis organized are a cause of constant concern to India for multiple reasons. India is already facing the consequences of Pakistan’s descent into jihadi extremism and now if Bangladesh were to collapse, India would have to contend with a similar rogue neighbor in the east. The smoke signals are ominous, among them Sheikh Hasina’s failure to ensure the safety and security of Bangladesh’s dwindling Hindu minority. West Bengal is flooded by Bangladeshi malcontents who now freely cross the border to take refuge here, and then return to indulge in jihadi violence both here and there. A recent Government of India statement pegged the number of Bangladeshis living illegally in India at more than two crores. Nobody knows the exact figure, nor is there any estimate how many of them are radicalized. Therefore, India has started building a fence to act as a permanent schism between the two masses of Bangladesh and India as to prevent the penetration of Bangladeshis into the country. Also, the border has been used by the Rohingya refugees from Rakhine state to enter into India. Despite the hurdles, police checks and fences, it is said that the Rohingya refugees are imbued to endure the long and treacherous journey to the Indian provinces of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Assam.
Pakistan’s decision to build a fence along the Durand line has been influenced by the cross-border terrorism and free movement of terrorists in and out of the Pakistan. The two countries share a 1,500-mile internationally recognized border known as the Durand Line, which was drawn in the 19th century when the British ruled the Subcontinent.
The border has long been a contentious issue. Ever since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, Afghan and Western officials have said that the Afghan insurgency’s leadership maintains havens in Pakistan, particularly in the city of Quetta. The free movement across the border has helped the militants avoid defeat in a 15-year war led by the United States. At the same time, Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of harboring its own terrorists, wanted Afghan Taliban leaders and their Haqqani network allies in the hilly areas of FATA and Waziristan.
Contrarily, Pakistani authorities have long accused Afgahniatsn of turning a blind eye to Islamic militants operating along the porous frontier and waging deadly attacks inside their territory are based across the border in Afghanistan. In the month of February, Pakistan closed the border for more than a month after a suicide bombing at a shrine in Pakistan’s Sindh Province on February 16, which killed more than eighty people, saying the terrorists behind the attack had sanctuaries in the country.
This has also engendered Pakistan to build the fence on the western border, which is vehemently criticized by the Afghan authorities who do not accept the division of land based on the Durand Line. Najib Danish, the deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said officials had not yet seen any signs of construction along the frontier but would move to prevent any such project. The Afghan government has never recognized this section of the border, drawn up during British colonial rule. It runs through the Pashtun heartland, diluting the power of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group on both sides. The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, General Qamar Bajwa believes that a better managed, secure and peaceful border is in the mutual interest of both the countries who have given phenomenal sacrifices in the war against terrorism.
Drafted and created based upon the Radcliffe line in 1947, the border demarcates the Indian states and the four provinces of Pakistan. The border runs from the Line of Control (LoC), which separates the Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistan’s Kashmir, in the north, to Wagah, which partitioned the Indian Punjab state and Punjab Province of Pakistan, in the east. The Zero Point separates the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to Sindh province of Pakistan, in the south. The LoC which separates the Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan’s Kashmir is one of the most controversial and contentious boundaries of the world. The line has witnessed numerous conflicts, crossfires, and wars between the two arch rivals. The most recent of these is the India-Pakistan skirmishes along LoC post Uri-attack of 2016. India alleged Pakistan for supporting and backing the group of heavily armed terrorists to attack the rear administrative base of the Indian army at Uri, in Indian-administered Kashmir. Moreover, India has also blamed that the ten men who attacked the iconic Taj and Oberoi Hotels, the Central Railway Station, and a Jewish Centre in Mumbai in 2008 were associated with the terrorist organization based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. And the list of one country’s railing of cross-border infiltrations and other country’s rants of being innocent is interminable. In order to avoid these diurnal rumblings along the LoC, India has decided to fence its border along the LoC. India believes that this will restrict the cross-border terrorism and militant infiltration into India.
But the border expert Dr. Reece Jones, professor of Geography department at the University of Hawaii and author of the book: “Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the United States, India, and Israel” argues that these border fences have failed to deter terrorism and to protect the population from external threats. He further added that while this deterrence strategy had made journeys to the United States and the European Union more difficult, the number of people attempting the journey did not diminish. “Instead, it has meant that there have been a staggering number of deaths at the borders”. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 10,000 people have died trying to cross a border since the start of 2015. Jones argues “These deaths are not accidental, but are directly related to the use of deterrence strategy and the construction of walls on the borders,”.
While the border walls and fences build in the South Asia and the rest of the world are effective as symbols that demonstrate that politicians are doing something to address the perceived threats brought by unauthorized movement. These perceived threats can be economic in the form of smugglers or workers taking revenue and jobs from citizens. They can be cultural in the sense that migrants bring different traditions, languages, and ways of life that might not match with the local culture, but they are said to be an expensive flawed solution the problem of infiltration, migration and human trafficking.
Critics argue that such walls will also harm the environment, as these do not encompass the shifting nature of rivers and deserts, therefore these are an impractical solution that encourages an ultranationalist siege mentality.
Dr. Vallet believes that if the exorbitant amont of money spent on these projects are instead invested in peace missions?or towards responding to the climate change that triggers food insecurity and migration it would have the potential to change “the course of history.”