Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Real Borders; Not Lines in the Sand - Pakistan & Afghanistan

An article in the September 22nd issue of Time Magazine titled "The Central Front" that focused on the calamities of Pakistan's new government and the resurgent violence caused by terrorism got me thinking about borders. On page 38 of this issue, Time presented a map that showed the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and in particular the region in Pakistan demarcated as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This quasi-autonomous area is suspected of harboring al-Qaida and Osama Bin laden.

I've never been to that area of Pakistan but I have been to the northern Pakistan and the areas north and west of Skardu as well as Indian Kashmir and the Ladahki Himalaya. Whether you draw a line on a piece of paper or not as the map in Time showed, there is no border. There are no fence lines or benchmarks or roads that mark these territories. These maps are so inaccurate due to the lack of cartographers willing to actually survey these areas that the borders are nearly non-existent. The regions are so vast and mostly uninhabited that it makes mapping them extremely difficult. The borders are but approximations. The recent news of U.S. military incursions into Pakistan caused a stir because there was some uncertainty that they actually crossed the border.

So, as you approach your reading of these areas of the world, know that many of these borders are disputed and sometimes inaccurately drawn. Watch out for the dashed-line in the sand as it can disappear with the next windstorm.

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