ISLAMABAD: A deep, long ditch Pakistan has been digging along its porous border with Afghanistan in Balochistan to check cross-border movement of militants will cost the national kitty around Rs14 billion, The Express Tribune has learnt. The lucrative contract to supply manpower for the strategic project has partly been given to men from an erstwhile key opponent of the Durand Line.
“In the first phase, this strategic project – 1,100-kilometre-long trench – has been initiated along Pak-Afghan border in Balochistan. In the next phase, it will be extended to the entire 2,400-plus kilometres’ long border. Three construction companies from Balochistan have been awarded the contract for supply of manpower and other arrangements,” a senior provincial official said on condition of anonymity.
After the completion of the project, travel between the two countries would be allowed only through officially-designated crossing points.
Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani said the project was initiated more than four months ago. “The 11-foot deep and 14-foot wide ditch will be dug along the entire stretch of the border,” he said. “This strategic project was necessary to ensure strong border controls past 2014 when US-led foreign forces pull out from Afghanistan.
Balochistan government’s spokesman Jan Buledi said the FC was also digging a similar trench along Pakistan’s border with Iran. “The ditch is being excavated about 20 kilometres inside Pakistani territory up to Washuk district,” he told The Express Tribune. “The ditch should have been dug right on the Pak-Iran border,” he said and voiced fears that Iran might capture the land beyond the ditch.
Durrani refused to disclose the names of the contractors hired by the federal government. However, a senior official said some prominent politicians were among the beneficiaries. “The contract has been given to the nephew of a top Pashtun nationalist leader from Balochistan,” he claimed.
The Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) has been opposed to recognising the Durand Line as an international border. It has been learnt that one contractor is a close relative of a prominent PkMAP leader, while another contractor also belongs to the party.
Due to these close ties, the federal government has also sanctioned a Sui gas supply project worth Rs1 billion for Gulistan Tehsil – the hometown of PkMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai.
PkMAP central secretary general Akram Shah sought to dispel the impression that men from his party had been awarded the contract to supply manpower for the project. “I’ve heard that the Pakistan Army is digging a ditch along the border,” he said. “We maintained silence on the project because we believe it is a useless exercise. The Afghans are one nation which could not be divided with such ditches,” he added.
Former ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand said the project might have the blessings of the US. In November 2012, a senior US diplomat had said that the US recognised the Durand Line as an international border. “If the government in Kabul has other interpretation, that’s certainly their business ‘’ Richard E Hoagland, US deputy chief of mission in Pakistan, had said at a media roundtable.