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Article, The Other View

porous border: an observation from the durand-hinterland

One of the major accusations Pakistan authorities* are faced with is the porosity of it’s borders to Afghanistan. Extremists** who ANA/NATO/ISAF fights, slip from Kunar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Khowst or Paktika into the FATA which they use as a safe haven to rearrange and filter back through. That accusation is often stated bluntly with many issues left unclear*/**. Whatever it’s finally all about, the border is porous in any case and from my personal experience with a project close to the FATA, it’s ridiculous to believe that in any way it would be possible to control the flow of those undefined extremist elements in any direction.

We (the NGO I work for as a program manager for Pakistan projects) currently run an ambulance in the vicinity of the Shamshattoo Refugee camp. How that camp, and it’s surrounding areas, is linked to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan I won’t get back to – Ron Moreau has recently written an interesting story on how Hekmatyar is recruiting his fighters from the camp and trains them in Afghanistan just to send them back where they wait for their call. There is little government control of the area, the population is extremely poor, health issues mainly circulate around malnutrition and diseases that stem from the lack of clean drinking water and hygiene problems. Even after serious injuries, people can often not afford to go to Peshawar for treatment. Afghanis not being treated in government hospitals and Pakistanis not being treated in NGO Hospitals in the Camp increases their dire situation. Malnutrition leads to serious physical problems of children. More than 90% of the women are married before they turn 20, nearly half of them already by their mid teens – by the time they are 30, they have often reached the average family size, just above 9. Female literacy is somehwhere around 2%, male literacy just below 20%. Pretty much all people work in the brick trade and associated jobs. Patients here are both, Afghani and Pakistani.

The Afghanis sometimes bring their family members from back home for treatment. So far so good, these are no big numbers. What’s surprising though, is that we expect the number of Afghani Refugee patients to plummet during the hottest summer months. Many of them return to their high pastures in Afghanistan during summer. For one, that ridicules our understanding of a refugee (who I would expect to only be in the host country, because it’s really impossible for him, for whatever reason, to live where his home is). Considering the fact that the area in Afghanistan where they come from (the border provinces) is now probably a lot more prone to fighting than during winter, the non-fighting season, they obviously do not just stay in Pakistan because their Afghani home is deemed unsafe(r). Anyhow, it shows how big the numbers crossing the borders each year may well be (there are somewhat 1 lakh refugees in Shamshattoo alone, of which enough move that we feel the consequences in an ambulance that is outside the camp – and there are a few more such camps in the area). Differentiating between a young man who crosses the border to tend to his cattle and one who crosses it to tend to his bomb-making-update-course is impossible. Probably these two intents often also inhabit one and the same person – who will then rightly claim that he is just a farmer, if he is controlled at all.

It’s a simple observation, contrary to Moreau I have not done any further researching into that. I would be interested in opinions from people with experiences in the area.


*That accusation is hurled against Pakistan authorities. Who that would be, or which of those (civil, army, secret service) feels like that accusation is meant for the respective I am not sure – I am pretty sure though, that the West/the US is not sure either.

**Just like not being sure who to blame, no one is clear on who those extremists are. I know Afghanis who are fighting as seasonal labor. When there is no call from their leader they sell carpets or drive tractors in Kashmir, in Punjab, in Mazar. Once they are needed they move to Waziristan from where they are shipped to wherever their skills are sought. They don’t call themselves Taliban, they are just fighting for their respective leader one up in command. The term “Taliban” they know from CNN or GEO, whatever is running in their chaikhana.

About Jakob Steiner

... lived, worked and studied in Australia, Europe and Asia.



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July 2011


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