MIRANSHAH: Undeterred by cross-border attacks and braving the inhospitable weather in the rugged terrain, Pakistan Army is determined to complete the border fortification process by the end of 2019. During a media briefing held in Katon Fort at Ghulam Khan border area adjoining Afghanistan’s Khost province, a senior official of Pak Army said that work on fortification and management of Pak-Afghan border will be complete by December 2019. Elucidating the border management process, another senior official while briefing media representatives at the Miranshah Division Headquarters explained that the components of border management process entailed fortification of the Pak-Afghan border with outposts, building fence along the 2,611 km long border, capacity building of FC for efficient oversight of crossings and establishment of border terminals and legal crossing points along the border. In addition to these steps, army was taking a number of measures for initiation and proficient implementation of social development projects in FATA, especially in the North Waziristan Agency. Border fencing: Pak Army initiated work on constructing fence along the 2,611 km long border between Pakistan and Afghanistan in early 2017 with an anticipated budget of Rs 56 billion (USD 505 million). So far, around 160 km fence has already been erected while another 400 km is planned to be built till the end of 2018. The rest will be completed till the end of 2019. The border fence consists of a pair of 10-foot tall wire trellis, with a six-foot gap in between filled and topped with razor wire. “This will effectively prevent miscreants cross border from the either side,” said the commanding officer. In a briefing in 2017, however, the army officials had told the media that the deadline for completing the fence was December 2018. Answering a question about delay, the official said that it was due to some ‘unforeseen conditions’ including the weather. In the earlier briefing, media was told that of total 2611 km border, only 2400 km was fence-able, but now army was all set to fence the entire border. Border fortification: In addition to the border fencing, army is all set to build a total of 750 forts and outposts along the border, of which 140 have been already completed while 15 are currently under construction. To a question about comparative number of posts built by Pakistan and Afghanistan, the commanding officer said that the current ratio was 7:1, with number of Pakistan’s establishments at 1126 while along the same stretch of border, Afghanistan had only 145 posts. In the Dewagar Sector alone, the number of posts manned by Pakistan’s Toochi Scouts was currently 93, while Afghanistan’s number along the same stretch was only 11 (making the ratio 8:1 in that sector). It was noted that the visible Afghan posts on the Khost side were built in clusters, while the density of posts on Pakistan side of Ghulam Khan border was such that all the posts were at least 500 metres apart. Technical monitoring of border: In addition to the fencing and fortification, Pak Army is installing high-efficiency equipment for technical monitoring of the border. This equipment includes underground sensors to detect any movements, PTZ cameras with long-range zoom alongside multiple displays at different headquarters, solar lights and dual communication system. The reporters were shown high-quality display of multiple border posts at the divisional headquarters. Capacity building of FC: Forces deployed along the Pak-Afghan border are being reinforced with the establishment of new wings and units. In 2017, 14 new wings of FC were raised while another is being established this year. A wing constitutes around 850 troops. Border crossing points: Multiple crossing points are being opened this year and more are planned for the next year too. Ghulam Khan terminal, which is the third largest crossing point after Chaman and Torkham, was closed in 2014 shortly after the Zarb-e-Azb operation started. Last year it was announced that the terminal would be opened by the end of 2017, which could not happen. During the briefing, however, the commanding officer said that the terminal would be opened by the end of February. Development works in FATA: A total of 550 development projects have been completed in FATA so far. These include 266 vocational training schools for women, 147 schools for girls and boys, 17 health centres, 67 markets, five veterinary hospitals, 13 roads and 27 mosques. In addition to it, around 768 public support projects have been initiated including a youth employment initiative that is expected to enroll 14,000 youngsters with an additional 5,000 to be placed for overseas employment and 1500 for the newly created vacancies in the Army Public Schools. A de-radicalisation initiative involves 3,080 people, including 118 women. The farmers, the officials said, were being trained for value-added farming and modern farming techniques to increase the produce and prevent wastage of natural resources. Other initiatives include modernisation of cottage industry, livestock management, introducing modern apiculture, technical education and facilitating small and medium enterprises. To a question, a senior officer said that the rumours about landmines killing civilians in North Waziristan were ‘absolutely fabricated’, as all the mines were in the border areas and not in the populated residential areas. “These mines have either been already cleared or have been marked to prevent human loss,” he said. To another question, the official said that the collective punishment practice has been shunned completely and the rumours about the demolition of marketplaces were false, being spread to create a wedge between the people and the armed forces. “These are our people and we are here to protect them, not to destroy them,” he said. It was noted during a tour of Miranshah that the villages along the road seemed empty without any signs of life in clusters of mud houses. However, around a dozen of men were seen in the compound of a mosque visible from the road. The central bus terminal of Miranshah was still under construction while several pickup vehicles were seen parked at a crossing in the city. The markets were deserted with not even a single soul visible. Few men were seen working on a construction site, however. With such a sight of desertedness, it was a pleasant surprise to see the well-managed fields with different crops including the cash crops like wheat. To a question, the official said that the former inhabitants keep coming to till their lands, although they haven’t yet returned to their homes to live here. “Around 91% of TDPs have returned to their homes, while the rest are either in Afghanistan waiting for permission from Afghan authorities to return or are from villages like Machis that were most notorious for presence of foreign militants before Zarb-e-Azb. Pak Army has lost many jawaans in clearing these villages and hopes that the TDPs would return here soon,” the official said. It was heartening to see how closely the people of North Waziristan were attached to their soil that despite being homeless and having to reside elsewhere as TDPs, they keep coming back to their villages for tilling their lands. Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.