Mind the gap. Taliban interrupt Pakistan's final phase of fence construction to maintain key gap.
Since the Taliban take over in August last year, there has been increasing rhetoric on both sides around the highly contentious fence the Pakistan Government has now nearly completed along the length of its border with Afghanistan. In recent months, several social media posts have attempted to infer that the Afghan Taliban have been dismantling the fence in places where it has been constructed. These would appear to be mostly posturing.
It is notable then that a video and photos posted on Twitter at the end of December shows the Taliban knocking over recently installed fence posts in an area of ongoing fence construction. These Twitter posts can be seen here: Video and Photos
Whilst this is not the destruction of completed fencing and the damage relatively trivial, it is none the less the first significant, public action by the Afghan Taliban against the fence.
So why here and why now?
Over the last four years, the Pakistan Government has constructed a fence and series of military outposts along the vast majority of its border with Afghanistan. This work has included constructing the fence in remote, mountainous areas with considerable access issues. In several cases, this fence has now blocked significant levels of informal cross border movement, particularly transit goods being smuggled into Pakistan from Afghanistan.
The last remaining significant lengths of fencing yet to be completed are along the south west stretch of this border. Being a desert area, it is comparatively one of the more straight forward lengths of fencing to construct from a logistical and technical perspective.
Although it is desert, there is a significant amount of cross border movement in this area, most significantly people smuggling, where those leaving Afghanistan are driven to Pakistan before crossing into Iran via the Mashkhel mountains. Our previous post covers this in detail here.
If the fence were to be completed in this area, it would seal off this cross border movement, in particular to the critical transit point of Dak. Dak sits on the Pakistani side of the border where migrants are cross decked from pickups from Ziranj in Afghanistan to other pickups that take them onto the border between Pakistan and Iran. Dak has grown significantly over the last few months, in particular with the increased pre-positioning of logistical supplies there, as hundreds of thousands of Afghans have left Afghanistan via this route to escape the unfolding humanitarian disaster.
By completing the fence, the Government of Pakistan would remove what has been an important safety valve for the new Taliban regime. It is of little surprise that the Taliban are resisting efforts to complete the fence at this strategic location.