Securing the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border

American, (R), and Canadian soldiers walk near the Afghan-Pakistan border crossing in support of Operation Mountain Thrust on June 19, 2006 at Spin Boldak, Afghanistan. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, December 10, 2008 - Seven years after the Afghanistan Campaign was initiated in the wake of 9/11, constant bombing and attacks along the Afghan border with Pakistan led many to wonder where “the war on terror” is heading. Imtiaz Ali, Yale World Fellow, and Barnett R. Rubin, director of studies and senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University, concluded with less pessimism that the reason for the continuing conflict is not the lack of resources, but ineffective use of the resources from both the Pakistani and U.S. governments. Dialogue and better policies and strategies could also play a significant role.

Dr. Rubin started off by pointing out the fundamental differences between the U.S. strategy and the Afghan one regarding the “triangle” of Pakistani intelligence and military, the Taliban, and al Qaeda. Under the Bush Administration, the U.S. believed the Pakistani intelligence and military were a potential ally after its shift in policy towards the Taliban. On the contrary, the Afghan government maintain that the Pakistani intelligence and military could be more forthcoming.

Facing U.S. operations which arrested suspected terrorists and sent them to Guantanamo, he said, Taliban leaders were left with no option but to flee into Pakistan, especially the tribal areas. The power struggle between the Pakistani civilian and military leaders has further complicated this situation.

Mr. Ali, on the other hand, outlined the historical shift of the tribal area from a remote autonomous land to “the epicenter of global jihad,” and emphasized the importance of securing the region through reform of its “special status”, including the colonial heritage, Frontier Crimes Regulations. Given that more than 300 people have been killed by the Pakistani Taliban militants, the only solution, he added, is for the Pakistani government to isolate the military from the tribesmen, and support the people in the tribal areas to fight against the violence.

In response to the recent Mumbai attack, Dr. Rubin also pointed out the similarity between the India-Pakistan Kashmir and the Afghan-Pakistan border dispute. He emphasized that both Pakistan and India can enjoy the Asian economic takeoff more than they already are if the disputes could be resolved through a regional agreement.

The panel was moderated by Hassan Abbas, research fellow of Project on Managing the Atom/International Security Program at Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University.

Reported by Sydney Peng

Excerpt: Imtiaz Ali on the decision-making roles of the President, Prime Minister, and Army Chief in Pakistan: “we don’t know, exactly, who are calling the shots.” (2 min, 46 sec.)