Durand Line: The Future Time Bomb


On November 12, 1893, King Abdur Rahman Khan and Sir Henry Mortimer Durand (British Envoy) agreed on seven points known as Durand Line Agreement to demarcate the line between Afghanistan and British India approximately 2,640 kilometers long (presently much of Baluchistan, large parts of the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province and the whole of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas), to limit their respective influence and to avoid interfere beyond the frontier line. In order to protect India from the Russian invasion, Great Britain had to occupy Afghanistan in 1879 and established a government in Kabul to put a full stop to Russian expansion to the east.

Amir Habibullah Khan the son of Amir Abdur Rahman also endorsed the Durand Line agreement on March 21st, 1905 after getting paid Rupees 1.8 million subsidy by British government. When Amanullah Khan the son of Habibullah Khan came into power as Amir of Afghanistan in 1919, he declared Afghanistan as an independent country and further demanded of the Viceroy of India for a new treaty for Afghanistan, which resulted in the Third Anglo-Afghan war in 1919 and British government under intense negotiation for a settlement, surrendered some un-demarcated areas like Spin Boldak and Dakka to Afghanistan, then an agreement was signed about the border in Kabul on 22 November 1921.

During Nadir Khan’s reign, his brother Shah Wali who was serving as an ambassador of Afghanistan signed a diplomatic agreement with Mr. Anderson Arthur, the then Britain’s foreign minister on July 6th, 1930 and endorsed the full acceptance of the treaties of 1921 and 1923. Some other reports say that Shah Wali Khan, the Afghan envoy of Pakistan on June 13th, 1948 declared that the king of Afghanistan had no claim on the frontier territory and had been given up in favour of Pakistan.

In spite of those above mentioned facts, for the last sixty five years Islamabad and Kabul governments’ diplomatic relations have never been candid, though very harsh on Durand Line issue. Several border skirmishes along with alleged incursions from both sides and riots against Pakistan embassy in Kabul in 1950 remind us of bitter relations of both countries. During 1970s, Sardar Mohammad Daud publically rejected the Durand Agreement and started supporting independent Pakhtunistan movement, which resulted in the end of diplomatic ties between both countries.

Soviet presence in Afghanistan brought Pakistan closer to US authorities to fight against Soviet troops and gave the best opportunity to Pakistan to deal with Durand Line. Defeat of Soviet troops in Afghanistan helped Pakistan to install its own men in Kabul to defuse the Durand Line issue and Pakhtunistan movement. In 2001, some Afghan circles alleged Pakistani authorities for bulldozing an Afghan Bazaar near Chaman and pushing the frontier a mile westward. In July 2003, Karzai government blamed that Pakistani authorities set up bases up to 600 meters inside Afghanistan in Yaqubi area near Mohamand Agency.

The present Kabul government doesn’t have any formal policy on Durand Line, however, Afghan minister for Border and Tribal Affairs, Abdul Karim Brahui once told the Afghan Parliament in 2006 that Afghanistan doesn’t recognize the Durand Line as an international border. Some Pashtun Afghan leaders invalidate the Durand Line agreement between British India and Afghanistan and suggest Pakistan to go for another agreement with Afghanistan, which seems unacceptable for Pakistan to negotiate with Afghanistan about this issue. Some hardliner Pashtuns argue that Pashtun lands which were historically part of Afghanistan were taken away during 1879-1921 forcefully, are now part of Pakistan, need to be handed over to Afghanistan.

Whatever the historical facts may be Pakistani establishment views Pashtun nationalism a great national security threat to the existence of Pakistan that’s why the elite class never allows Pashtun movement to flourish in Pakistan. In order to sideline the Durand Line issue, Islamabad brings all available resources into use to either suppress the issue directly, if not then religious groups like Taliban’s cooperation is sought to counter Pashtun nationalist parties in and outside of Pakistan.

It needs to be remembered that Pakistan and Afghanistan were once nearly on the verge of a war in 1954 over the “Greater Pashtunistan” issue. Presently, Afghanistan’s Pashtuns seem to have reluctant to endorse the issue publically as Pakistani Pashtuns likely have greater influence on Afghanistan’s Pashtun leaders, that’s why Pashtun leaders in Afghanistan don’t have the political courage to take a bold step about the Durand Line without the consent of Pakistani Pashtuns.

Political analysts believe that Pashtun nationalist parties like Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) might support the recognition of the Durand Line as an international border when a new province by the name of Pashtunkhwa come into existence comprising of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, FATA and Northern Balochistan, which seems very hard in the present political scenario to get endorsed as Pakistan is a multi-ethnic country and approving Pashtuns’ demand would mean further creation of the provinces in the country on the basis of race and would cause great trouble for establishment to get the country united and intact. As regard Baloch nationalist parties, they don’t seem to have a big issue with the Durand Line; however, their utmost objective seems to be fighting for the provincial autonomy of Balochistan.

Pakistan’s main concern about the Durand Line is to marginalize Pashtuns’ influence in the political affairs of the country; therefore Panjabi establishment in Pakistan would never stop terrorizing Kabul Government with the horror of Taliban.  India’s closeness to Afghanistan is also doubling the fear of Pakistan, which needs to be carefully analysed by Kabul government. India has never publically supported Kabul government’s stand on Durand Line issue as it has loads of border related problems with neighbouring countries, however, India seems allegedly support Pashtuns’ stance on Durand Line issue through backdoor channel to build up political pressure on Pakistan to stop interfering in Kashmir.

Many Pakistani believe that Pashtuns are mistakenly under the impression that the Durand Line agreement 1893 was for 99 or 100 years, which is a rumour, otherwise evidence would have been brought to the light or the issue would have been raised in the international forum like UN or any other international fora.

They further argue that if the Durand Line treaty is to be invalidated then all British treaties made during the British-raj to be regarded as invalid even the name of “Afghanistan”, which was first mentioned by the British in Gadamak Treaty on May 26, 1879 between Sir Pierre Louis Napolean Cavagnari and Amir Yaqub Khan. Many suggest that Pashtuns shouldn’t raise the Durand Line issue intensely as it would alienate them not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan as both countries are multi-ethnic states and the political issues are interrelated and interconnected with other ethnic groups.

The more this issue is raised, the more it would cause political concern to other ethnic groups and the more Pashtuns would feel lonely in this region. In Pakistan, Baloch, Hazarewals, Gujjars, Chitralis and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan would never support the Durand Line to be considered invalidated as this issue would cause great political and regional divide in the country. It requires extreme delicacy with great political skill and historical facts to decide how and where to draw lines to make the greater Pashtunkhwa.

The same problem lies in Afghanistan, where ethnic groups like Tajik, Hazaras, Uzbek, Turkmen form the huge population of Afghanistan and Durand Line issue would help non-Pashtuns to get united under northern or Non- Pashtun platform, which would ultimately alienate Pashtuns from the rest of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s position has been very clear and considers the Durand Line as a valid international border, which has been recognized and confirmed by Afghan governments on several occasions in   1893, 1905, 1919 and 1930.

However, both countries regard the conflict as hard core issue, which has pushed them to the absolute position of national security threats to their countries. Pakistan blames Afghanistan for supporting Pashtun nationalism and activities of Baloch separatists and Mullah Fazlullah while Afghanistan is alleging Pakistan for supporting Taliban and other religious militant groups in the affairs of Afghanistan.

The international community including the U.S. government has no formal international position on the Durand Line but accept as a de facto recognition of the border in the war against terror. It needs to be understood that no other country has ever accepted the Afghanistan’s line on this issue, it’s now therefore needed that the international community help both countries to take confidence building measures to resolve this issue for the best interest and long-lasting stability of the region.

Numbers of proposals can be put on the negotiating table such as soft open recognized border like European Union, enhanced bilateral trade, cultural activities, interaction between people to people and access to Karachi or Gwadar ports for Afghans would bring financial benefits to both sides of the borders especially Pashtuns and the neighbouring countries.  Such settlement would strengthen democracy in both countries and facilitate Pakistan to access to Central Asian countries.

It is the best time for both countries and the international community especially US to help resolve this issue for the greater interest of this region before 2014 and the Durand Line issue can be put on the table at Chicago Summit, which is being held on May 2012. However, if this issue is ignored, all peaceful efforts going for the last ten years would go in vain and the whole region once again would turn into devastating political turmoil with the sanctuaries of the terrorists and proxies to pose threat to the region and the world in near future.

The writer is an ESOL teacher in UK. He can be reached at toyounasat@yhaoo.co.uk