FM wants Trump to pick up bill

* Kh Asif says refugee camps are breeding grounds for insurgency * Islamabad, Washington trying to decrease strain in ties

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has said that Washington must pay for the fencing of Pak-Afghan border, which Islamabad argues is necessary to stop the illegal influx of visitors from the other country that might also include militants.

Less than 10 percent of the fence planned along the 2,611 kilometers of mountainous border with Afghanistan has been completed so far due to financial constraints. Even so, Kh Asif said the barrier should be finished by the end of 2019. “It won’t cost them much,” Asif said of the US in an interview with Bloomberg. “The war is costing them much more.”

The border fence will stop the flow of militants crossing into both countries unchecked, Asif said, adding that Pakistan also considers the return of more than two million Afghan refugees critical for peace. He called on the US to assist with the fencing and repatriation of the Afghan refugees. “It’s a free for all,” Asif said, adding that as many as 70,000 people crossing the border a day. “These issues are facilitating terrorism.”

Pakistan has come under increasing pressure to act against the Afghan Taliban and affiliated Haqqani network after President Donald Trump accused officials in Islamabad of allowing them safe haven.

When asked about Trump’s allegations, Asif said that Pakistan wanted better ties with the US. “Both sides are trying to decrease the stress,” he said.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have denounced the other for harbouring insurgents, prompting relations to drastically sour in the past year. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said Pakistan is waging an ‘undeclared war of aggression’ against his nation and has threatened armed confrontation over the fence across the Durand Line.

Asif said the roughly 600,000 Afghan refugees that went back to their home country last year have largely returned to Pakistan. He said the camps are breeding grounds for insurgency and the international community must do more to help with the burden and conditions in Afghanistan for returnees.

Pakistan has faced repeated criticism for the forced return of some refugees who have fled war across the border, which the United Nations says is against international laws.

Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.