- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

U.S. and Afghan officials are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Islamist militants that wreak havoc in Afghanistan and then withdraw into Pakistani territory. Pakistan has responded to that frustration by floating a seemingly attractive but, upon closer consideration, untenable proposal: build a wall along the Afghan-Pakistani border. The wall that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has in mind is more suitable for deflecting criticism than deterring militants. Afghan President Hamid Karzai opposes the building of the wall. U.S. officials have tellingly chosen not to endorse it. The question, therefore, remains: What must Pakistan do to address its militant problem?

There is also the question of the Afghan-Pakistani border itself: A border has never been officially delineated and the two countries are not in agreement over where the border should be. Even Afghanistan’s Taliban government, which heavily depended on Pakistan, never reached an agreement with Islamabad on border demarcation. The countries currently use the administrative division drawn by the British more than 100 years ago, known as the Durrand line, as a defacto division, but Afghanistan is opposed to using Durrand as a final border. Building a wall would separate, and anger, the Pashtun people straddling the border — a prospect that may not help U.S. and Afghan troops that have to work in the area.

As Mr. Karzai has said, erecting a wall is “neither practical nor advisable,” and it would not stop insurgents. Instead, Pakistan should “concentrate on where terrorists are trained, on their bases, on the supply to them, on the money coming to them.” That strategy sounds straightforward enough.

Pakistan put up a worthwhile effort to control the border during both the presidential and parliamentary Afghan elections and has moved against foreign al Qaeda operatives, but Islamabad remains reluctant to aggressively police its own Pashtuns on the border with Afghanistan. For Mr. Musharraf, the political cost of a serious counterinsurgent campaign in the Northwest Frontier Province is apparent, while the benefit for his administration is not.

Mr. Musharraf has relied on Islamist parties to close ranks around him, to counter the power of Pakistan’s more traditional parties. He stands to lose the support of those Islamist parties if he were to begin cracking down on them. He could mitigate the political cost of a crackdown, though, if he were able to brandish some reciprocal aid from the United States. That aid would have to be substantial enough to convince the Pakistani people that their everyday lives were on a path to improvement. U.S. aid toward Pakistani civil administration, development and the state school system, for example, could serve U.S. interests in Pakistan and improve the lot of Pakistanis in general.

The United States currently has a number of costly and competing budget priorities. Still, supporting stability in a nuclear-armedIslamiccountrybordering Afghanistan should remain high on the list.

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