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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Pakistan recruits thousands more troops to guard Afghan border

Move aims to secure 2,300km frontier against infiltration by militants 

A Pakistani soldier guards a newly fenced stretch of the border with Afghanistan's Paktika province. AFP 
A Pakistani soldier guards a newly fenced stretch of the border with Afghanistan's Paktika province. AFP 

Pakistan will reinforce its Afghan border with tens of thousands of additional troops to curb the flow of militants.

Up to 60,000 paramilitaries are being raised to step up patrols along the porous, mountainous border which is notorious for smuggling and infiltration by insurgents.

The recruitment to Pakistan's Frontier Corps comes as the country builds a fence along the 2,300-kilometre boundary to increase security.

About 40 per cent of the new paramilitaries have already been recruited, military officials said.

Pakistani military officials said the reinforcements would deter infiltration from Afghanistan where militant groups including the Pakistan Taliban are in hiding.

But they also come after years of demands from America and Afghanistan to tighten border security and prevent Afghan Taliban insurgents operating from safe havens inside Pakistan.

“This is a really significant step by the Pakistan military to highlight their growing concerns over infiltration of militants and others from across the border,” said Viraj Solanki of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank.

Pakistan's army has 661,000 regular and paramilitary troops and has previously focused its defences largely on the eastern border with India, with which it has fought three wars since the two countries achieved independence in 1947.

“There are major concerns over the Afghan border, and these troops will go some way to addressing that,” he said.

The Pakistani Taliban have largely been pushed out of the country by military operations and have taken refuge in eastern Afghanistan. Other extremist groups such as ISIS also operate over the Afghan border. Security in Pakistan has improved in recent years, although last month's election campaign saw about 200 people killed in bombing attacks.

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Even with the new forces, securing the border without Afghanistan's help will be difficult, Mr Solanki said.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have denounced the other for harbouring insurgents, while Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, has accused Pakistan of waging an “undeclared war of aggression” against his nation.

Kabul does not recognise the Durand Line as the border, which was drawn up when Pakistan was under British rule as part of India, and is opposed to it being demarcated with a fence.

“For the measure to be completely effective it will need a similar level of commitment from across the border with the Afghan army and I don't see that happening,” Mr Solanki said.

About 13 per cent of the security fence planned along the mountainous border has been completed and it will eventually feature surveillance cameras and hundreds of fortified posts.

Pakistan's commanders do not believe it will stop the most determined insurgents, but they believe it will act as a deterrent.

While it may cut infiltration into Pakistan, it is not clear how much it will reassure the United States, which has demanded Islamabad stop militant groups such as the Taliban and its aligned Haqqani Network from conducting attacks in Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan.

Anger over the issue led President Donald Trump to suspend US aid to Pakistan in January, saying America had received only “lies and deceit” in return.

A paper by the Afghanistan Analysts' Network last year said there were well established “commuting routes” for the Afghan Taliban to travel over the border into Pakistan for rest, training or meetings and then return to fight.

It found 235 crossing points, of which only 20 were used frequently and only two have formal border controls in place.

“I don’t think this will satisfy the US,” Rashid Ahmed Khan, the head of international relations at Pakistan's University of Central Punjab, told Bloomberg.

“It’s one of the most porous borders in the world — if one side continues to oppose it, then this can’t be that effective.”

Pakistan's Imran Khan said after his general election victory last month that he wanted to see a European Union-style open border with Afghanistan.

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