ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has rejected Afghan criticism of a 480-kilometer trench its military is digging along their mostly porous border, saying the project is aimed at “effectively” controlling movement of terrorists and flow of drugs and human traffickers into the country.
Pakistani forces are digging a trench more than two meters deep and three meters wide in southwestern Baluchistan province, which shares half of the country’s more than 2,500-kilometer border with Afghanistan.
Army officials said the trench is expected to be completed next month.
They said they think it will help prevent illegal crossings and reduce terrorist activities that cause strains in bilateral relations.
Military spokesman Major-General Asim Saleem Bajwa told VOA the project is part of the administrative and security measures Pakistan has undertaken to secure the mountainous border with Afghanistan.
Bajwa dismissed Kabul’s concerns and criticism of the trench.
“We have to protect and secure our borders. So, anything that is done on this side of the border remaining within our own area is very much legal," he said.
Bajwa added that an ongoing counter-militancy army offensive, called "Zarb-e-Azb," in the North Waziristan tribal district near the Afghan border is also part of efforts to rid the volatile region of local and foreign terrorists considered a threat to security on both sides of the border.
“There are a host of measures which are being undertaken all across the border (to secure it)," he said.
"This ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ is right now confined to an area only in the northwest, but then we have a very long border (with Afghanistan), more than 2,500 kilometers, so there are various (security) measures at various belts of the border which are being undertaken," Bajwa said.
The army said the Waziristan offensive has killed about 1,000 militants. The army has suffered 80 casualties in the offensive.
Against permanent border
While Afghan authorities have long complained that militants are using Pakistani border areas to fuel the Taliban insurgency in their country, Kabul does not accept the Durand Line as an international boundary and strongly opposes any steps that may turn it into a permanent and more secure border.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has establish a high-level special commission to look into the Pakistani project.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi is critical of the trench.
Sediqi said the commission has been formed and the government is awaiting its findings. But the Afghan spokesman added, “We strongly condemn it and believe that there can be no justification” for digging the trench.
There are two regular border crossings on the Durand Line and Pakistan estimates 50,000 Afghans move back and forth every day.
Islamabad has in the past tried to put in place a biometric system to ensure identities of these travelers, but Kabul’s strong opposition stopped the move.
Pakistan army spokesman Bajwa said there is need for both countries to strengthen border security. But he said Afghanistan has not done enough to prevent terrorist attacks from their side against Pakistani installations.
“I will be very honest with you, I have yet to see any substantive action on that side of the border, which has been taken to check this tendency of the terrorists to attack from there. So, there is a lot which needs to be done from across the border," Bajwa said.