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December 27, 2006
Maybe They Were Serious

The Pakistani agreement with tribal chiefs in the North Waziristan region called into question Pervez Musharraf's will to fight the Taliban he once supported in Afghanistan, now that they have most likely crossed the border into his nation to use it as a launching pad for cross-border attacks. That question may have found an answer in Musharraf's latest proposal:

Pakistan has told its army to examine a plan to fence off and mine part of its long and porous border with Afghanistan, a move likely to further fuel tensions between the two countries.

Foreign secretary Riaz Muhammad Khan told a press conference yesterday that safe-transit passages along the newly fortified stretches of the 1,490-mile border would allow the cross-border movement of both Afghans and Pakistanis. However, he gave no timetable for carrying out the work.

Pakistan is not a signatory to the anti-landmines Geneva Convention and other international agreements that restrict building of fences along international borders and "does not require permission from its neighbours," Mr Khan explained.

"This decision reflects Islamabad's policy to stop militants from using its soil against Afghanistan and we will do our utmost to stem the flow of militants across the Durand Line [border]," Mr Khan said adding that "while mining can be done expeditiously, fencing will take longer".

Mining has some touchy political ramifications in the West, although not so much in southwest Asia. The US will likely take care to keep from any association with Musharraf's plans, although it might be a good solution to the problem of unenforced borders in the Waziristan region. It will certainly once again call into question the American insistence on using land mines in North Korea as part of its DMZ effort, although American mines can be deactivated remotely once hostilities have ended, unlike those of some other nations.

Part of the problem is that the tribal areas in that region do not follow the political boundaries. Pashtuns, the majority ethnic group among Afghans and a large minority in Pakistan, consider the territory crossing the border as their land. Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun himself, objects to placing mines across what he sees as a Pashtun right-of-way. Musharraf's plan could lead to bloodshed as it will be difficult to restrain people from traveling through lands they have always accessed freely.

However, all of this sensitivity to Pashtun nomadic life costs Karzai dearly. The Taliban remnants that make use of the free access could topple Karzai and the democratic government in Afghanistan if they cannot be stopped from roaming in and out of Afghanistan. Musharraf has already stopped trying to fight the Pashtuns in Waziristan, and that means that some other method of ending the free passage must be found.

At least Musharraf is thinking of solutions, even if he's doing so to avoid the deadly consequences of continued war in Waziristan. I had thought Musharraf had given up entirely on fighting the radical Islamists.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 27, 2006 5:13 AM

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