Bordering on Peace?


As we move towards the draw-down of foreign forces in Afghanistan, openSecurity asks Afghan, Pakistani and international experts what needs to happen in the region to establish peace.

Jo Tyabji
14 August 2012

Borders are about control. Not just of migration flows, imports and exports, but control of attitudes. State borders represent a formulation of enmity and amity, one controlled by broad diplomatic trends that denote whole populations up to a particular line as friendly, and those on the other side as dangerous, threatening, not to be trusted. Yet the inhabitants of the borderlands on either side may not view each other in this way. Economic and cultural ties that transcend the border may be greater than the demarcation of the state.  

The border between Indian controlled Kashmir and Pakistani controlled Kashmir has been a hard border with extreme political significance since its inception. The pressure on communities on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) to view each other as enemies is immense. The fracturing that has occurred as a result of the intransigence of the two states has simultaneously ruptured pre-existing ties and formed identities based on a Kashmiri struggle for self-rule.

And yet, as Dr Mahapatra wrote in March in an article for openSecurity, people on both sides of the border have been determined to maintain relations across the Line of Control. Families and friends from different religious groups remained in contact, sending letters the long way round the world in order to reach a village or town a matter of miles across the LoC, or arranging to meet in a third country. Dr Mahapatra’s study shows multiple instances of the refusal to be rendered enemies in the face of the greatest historical, cultural and political incentives to acquiesce to this definition, and cites face-to-face meetings, citizen forums and round tables as evidence for the need of a ‘people-centric peace process’.

But what of communities where such interconnections have not survived? Can they be instigated so many years after the events of 1947, and after so many years of mutual distrust? The report below from Insight on Conflict looks at a town that was physically split by the Line of Control, and where there was no contact between inhabitants of either side for many years.

Whereas the personal ties maintained by the individuals in Dr Debidatta’s study were achieved despite not because of the policies of the central state, the reinstatement of economic activity across the LoC recorded here occurred with the involvement of the local authorities on both sides of the border.

So economic activity can build trust, and help to normalize relations. Mariam Safi of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul writes here of the need for a New Silk Road to link Afghanistan to the regional economy of Central and South Asia, and to reinstate Afghanistan as the transit hub it once was. But what of the regions current economic dynamics, and the power brokers who control them?

Two key supply chains, both of them fraught with geo-political significance, currently define Afghanistan’s transit routes. Raw opium and some refined heroine go out, and NATO’s supplies come in. Both of these economies are associated with violent entrepreneurs able to make profit through offering protection, capitalising on risk, and in some instances creating risk in order to raise the risk premium.

In a working paper for the series Markets for Peace?, Jonathan Goodhand notes that smugglers of raw opium often rely on existing ethnic and social networks which straddle the border.  His study traces the development of the illicit drugs trade at the Afghan-Tajik border, finding that the trade has resulted in the development of forms of governance, including extractive institutions. These operate at the periphery, resulting in ‘the emergence of a new political equilibrium and power sharing arrangements’, which stretch all the way to the centre (Goodhand;2009:17).

Does this mean that the drugs economy is a peace economy by virtue of these developmental effects? No, but it does point to the importance of understanding the successful political economic relationships that have evolved, and the role of violence in them, as Afghanistan looks to form a different set of relations in the regional political economy.

According to Derek Gregory’s in-depth analysis for openSecurity, the logistics of supplying war in Afghanistan has ‘turned money into a weapons system, part of an ongoing financialisation of the battle space’. The decision to contract-out transit and protection of supplies to private actors was taken in order to avoid the US force being tied to their supply lines, and to build positive relations by boosting local economies – a ‘security-development nexus’. This has led to a proliferation of entrepreneurs in violence offering private security, and collaborating with local powerbrokers, truck drivers and armed groups to turn the supply lines into an extensive war economy that of course fuels the war it relies on: NATO’s supplies, and its payments to private actors, also supplies the insurgency it seeks to fight.

So to move from the existing economic relations along Afghanistan’s border – the local political regimes they have established, the power sharing and slim level of predictability that a professionalised drug trade has entailed, the centrality of violence as a rational choice in these economies – to Mariam Safi’s vision of a New Afghan Silk Trade, what needs to happen? What would a ‘security-development nexus’ that builds peace look like?

Pakistan has given Most Favoured Nation status to India, and agreed to allow transit for Afghan exports into India. Does this represent faltering steps towards a regional peace economy, or are these merely gestures in the long game that has swung India and Pakistan back and forth between near-war and not-quite-peace?

What will the post-2014 political economy look like? What power-sharing agreements will emerge, and between whom? As we move towards the draw-down of foreign forces in Afghanistan, heralding the start of a long trail of trucks back across the Uzbeki and Pakistani borders with Afghanistan, openSecurity asks: what needs to happen in the region to bring peace?

We welcome submissions for the series Bordering on Peace? from Afghan, Pakistani and international peacebuilders, analysts and security professionals. Contact: [email protected]

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