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Soldier of fortune

Publication Date : 04-08-2012


Another reminder that for local residents, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border may as well not exist: young men from Chitral are crossing over to join the Afghan National Army, according to the provincial Home Department. The local administration has been asked to confirm this, but two pieces of context are important. First, that this is not a new or isolated phenomenon. Similar reports about Pakistanis joining Afghan forces have appeared over the years, including from the relatively peaceful Kalash areas of Chitral, but especially from federally administered tribal areas (Fata). They are reminders that this border is more real on a map than it is in the lives of people who live along it. But while in the settled area of Chitral it is relatively easy to determine who has joined security forces on the other side, in less accessible Fata it is harder to figure out who is going over, whether they are being recruited and by whom, and what they are doing in Afghanistan. This also makes it harder to determine if they are providing sensitive intelligence or in some other way compromising Pakistani security.

Second, the people of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who are joining forces on the other side are not necessarily doing so for sinister reasons. At the root of this is the same simple problem that many Pakistanis face across the country — the lack of employment opportunities. Along the border crossing over is a means of seeking out jobs in the same way that people in other parts of Pakistan might cross provincial boundaries, perhaps even more so given ethnic and linguistic ties. One suggestion that has been floated is to offer jobs to locals in border policing on this side. Whatever the specific solution, the marginalisation of these communities from development and jobs means they will seek out work wherever they can find it, even if that means becoming mercenaries in what the rest of the country considers a foreign army. If the state is concerned about the security fallout, it will need to provide alternative livelihoods that are as easy to come by as crossing the Durand Line.


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