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A tale of two walls

By Russell Grenning - posted Thursday, 12 April 2018


While President Trump presses ahead with his ambitious plan to build a wall along the US-Mexican border to stem the flow of illegal immigrants despite a non-stop barrage of criticism that the planned wall won't work or, if it does work, it will be inhumane, cruel and racist, two vastly different countries are quietly proving that border walls do work.

You couldn't imagine two more different countries than Hungary and Pakistan – one is European and Christian and the other is Asian and Islamic – but both have somewhat similar problems with a porous border with a neighbour.

Since building its wall along its border with Serbia, Hungary has slashed illegal immigration by more than 99 per cent. Speaking on the second anniversary of the government's move to seal the border – which is also an external border for the European Union – the Prime Minister's Chief Security Advisor Gyorgy Bakondi said that the wall, which comprises twin fences peppered with watchtowers and patrolled by thousands of heavily armed troops, had seen illegal immigration collapse from 391,000 in 2015 to 18,236 in 2016 to just 1,184 in 2017.

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The move has proven to be wildly popular in Hungary and that has stiffened the resolve of the government despite various threats and lots of hand wringing from the European Union.

The United Nations has also predictably attacked the wall with, for example, the UN Refugee Agency chief Filippo Grandi demanding that the wall come down because it was "designed to keep people out of the country". Well, surprise, surprise – that is exactly the reason it was erected.

The European Union has decided that Hungary should take several thousand unwanted immigrants from countries like Germany and probably far more as they continue to pour into Europe. When asked by a German newspaper why Germany should take hundreds of thousands and Hungary should take none, the Hungarian PM Victor Orban snappily replied, "Because Germany wanted them and Hungary did not."

The stand by the Hungarian Government is similar to the anti-immigrant stand by the Polish, Slovakian and Czech Republic Governments. Resistance is growing throughout Europe and the European Union bureaucrats don't like it one little bit.

But the European Union's own Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos has admitted, "We cannot contemplate more victims in our cities, but we know that it is a reality we will probably have to face for years to come." While he is too politically correct to mention illegal immigrants in this context (or any other), what this senior official is saying in other words is that the internal security of the European Union is dismal.

Pakistanhas finally taken a robust attitude to the nonstop flow of terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants who have been able for years to cross back and forth across its almost 2,500 km border with Afghanistan. When General Qamar Javed Bajwa was appointed the country's top military officer in November, 2016, he ordered the construction of the barrier which is due for completion by the end of next year. It will cost the poor nation more than $US500 million.

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It comprises two layers of four metre high barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, solar powered lights, an intrusion detection system and hundreds of manned forts and thousands of observation posts manned by the Pakistani Army.

Already, according to the Pakistani military it has "phenomenally reduced the unchecked border crossings."

For years militants have launched attacks on US forces and the Afghan Army in Afghanistan then been able to retreat into the mountainous terrain of Pakistan into an area called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Previously, Pakistan pretended that this simply wasn't happening but now their tolerance or indifference has come to an end. Famously, the former head of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden evaded capture for ten years and masterminded terrorist attacks while living in a compound about 120km north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad until he was hunted down and killed by US forces. Pakistan always pretended that he wasn't in the country and the successful US raid was not just a huge embarrassment for them but eventually a much-needed wakeup call.

Pakistanhas now conceded that playing a double game with the terrorists by pledging to do all it could to crack down on them while really looking the other way was self-defeating. The government now says more than 80,000 of its citizens have been killed by terrorists. In December, 2014, extremists attacked a school in north-west Pakistan killing 132 children and that was only one of many outrages. Their border wall is saying to the terrorists that enough is enough. Added to their wall is a beefed-up passport and identification card regime.

One problem that Pakistan has is that the border which rambles across very difficult terrain was drawn by the British in 1896 with no regard to affected tribes and families many of which were divided. The so-called "easement right" granted by the colonial British to allow cross-border traffic continued under independent Pakistan which now admits that it has been far too lenient in the past.

Another key element of the new Pakistani counter-terrorism policy has been the deliberate levelling of border villages that have been identified as safe havens for terrorists.

Pakistan's difficulties are further compounded by the almost complete absence of any security on the Afghan side of the border. In fact, Afghanistan refuses to formally accept the border and has resisted any formal demarcation.

The Pakistani Army's border commander Major General Nadeem Anjum has said that there have been attempts by terrorists to breach the wall but that these have been unsuccessful.

He has great faith in the new policy. "Fence it then manage it," he said. "It's the simplest solution in the history of the world."

Faced with similar problems it is hardly strange that the Pakistani and Hungarian Governments have been broadly saying the same things and implementing the same policy.

And both, in their own ways, echo President Trump's policy on stopping illegal immigrants.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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