On a tour of the Afghan-Pakistan border a couple years after the collapse of the Taliban government, Afghanistan’s minister of the interior was in for a rude awakening. A number of guards at one Afghan-controlled crossing, he learned, went home at the end of each workday to Pakistan. The minister shouldn’t have been surprised to have Pakistani citizens on his payroll for such a sensitive task. After all, the country never had a truly functioning national border police, and so the job of managing the frontier fell largely to local strongmen and warlords, who were not above hiring foreigners so long as they were local.
Today, Afghanistan has a hefty national border police funded by the international community. But despite their crisp uniforms and neat organizational charts, the Afghan Border Police are nowhere near ready to protect the country’s borders. And that may be a good thing.
Consumed with building a modern Afghan state from the inside out, the international community initially paid little attention to the situation along Afghanistan’s borders. The reasons were simple. Between 2001 and 2006, the country's frontier areas were enviously stable. International donors had the luxury of not worrying about security there and, in any case, took it for granted that neighboring countries would rise to the task. Iran’s government, for example, spent tens of millions of dollars paying the salaries of Afghan guards and refurbishing some border crossings in the name of neighborliness. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan’s authorities took a more creative approach, doling out food, gas, and clothing to unsavory insurgents on Afghanistan’s side to cajole them to move further away from the border.
By 2009, insurgents, traffickers, and bandits were making unfettered use of the country’s crossings, and the international community decided to double down and revamp the country’s border and customs police. No