International diplomacy is always a delicate matter. Military forces make these matters even more delicate, but nations often use their military forces either to enforce or to advance their political and diplomatic ends. This is especially true regarding international borders and boundaries. Afghanistan and Pakistan are certainly an example of this.
We went on a convoy to the Pakistan border with the Afghan border police. The Afghans are concerned about what they feel is encroachment of their borders by Pakistan; the Pakistan Border Patrol has numerous police along the border, and Afghanistan has alleged that Pakistan has taken over some of their territory. While it’s not our mission to get involved in such border disputes, it’s an unavoidable part of working with the Afghan Border Police that we will see instances occur.
Fortunately, when we went to the border, we were met peacefully by the Pakistan Border Police. We discussed the border situation with them before heading back – the PBP commander was not present, so the officer who met us at the border asked to set a date to discuss the matter further. Our ABP commander was interested in a follow-up visit in the near future.
It was interesting, because the Pakistan police kept their eyes on us closely. They were a distance away, but they showed their weapons to give us a strong visual clue that they were intent on protecting their territory. Of course, we didn’t challenge them. Our intent was merely to let them know the ABP would be patrolling their side of the border.
It made me think of the days of “gun boat diplomacy,” where countries would impose their wishes on another country at the point of a gun barrel. It made me wonder how much the military is involved in international relations and international diplomacy. The obvious answer came to me readily: a lot.
We use our military for international missions of humanitarian assistance, to show force and presence, and sometimes to intimidate. Sometimes, we use military force to oppose a sovereign nation’s political objectives or force their change. An obvious case in point is our removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. But not all military actions are violent – we have often brought aid to other countries via our military.
On our way back from the border, we stopped in a village and gave the elders some corn and a few toys. As part of international relations, humanitarian aid has long been a way the United States tries to maintain good will. Here in Afghanistan, the local villagers were appreciative (the stuffed toys were especially a hit). Mission accomplished.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.