Durand Line, boundary established in the Hindu Kush in 1893 running through the tribal lands between Afghanistan and British India, marking their respective spheres of influence; in modern times it has marked the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan
. The acceptance of this line—which was named for Sir Mortimer Durand, who induced ʿAbdor Raḥmān Khān, amir of Afghanistan, to agree to a boundary—may be said to have settled the Indo-Afghan frontier problem for the rest of the British period.
After the British conquered the Punjab in 1849, they took over the ill-defined Sikh frontier to the west of the Indus River, leaving a belt of territory between them and the Afghans that was inhabited by various Pashtun tribes. Questions of administration and defense made this area a problem. Some of the British, members of the so-called stationary school, wanted to retire to the Indus; others, of the forward school, wanted to advance to a line from Kābul through Ghaznī to Qandahār (Kandahār). The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80) discredited the forward advocates, and the tribal area was divided into roughly equal spheres of influence. The British established their authority by indirect rule up to the Durand Line, at the cost of a number of tribal wars; the Afghans left their side untouched. In the mid-20th century the area on both sides of the line became the subject of a movement for Pashtun independence and establishment of an independent state of Pakhtunistan. In 1980 approximately 7.5 million Pashtuns were living in the area around the Durand Line.
Punjabis and Pashtuns
There are two major ethnic groups near the Durand Line. Those two groups are the Punjabis and the Pashtuns. Most Punjabis and Pashtuns are Sunni Muslim. Punjabis are the largest ethnic group in Pakistan. Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.There are also a lot of Pashtuns in northwestern Pakistan, where they ruled over 103,600 square kilometers (40,000 square miles) of territory, before being defeated by the British in 1847. At the time, the Pashtuns were fighting to prevent the Punjabis from expanding farther into the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan.The British established the Durand Line after conquering the Pashtuns. Eighty-five percent of the Durand Line follows rivers and other physical features, not ethnic boundaries. It split the Pashtuns into two separate countries.
Afghanistan governs all the Pashtuns on one side of the Durand Line, while Pakistan governs all the Pashtuns on the other. The Pashtuns on the Pakistan side of the border made up more than half of the Pashtun population, but were now under the control of the Punjabis, which made them angry.The Pashtuns were also angry at the British colonial government.
Throughout history, colonial forces like the British have set boundaries that cause great tension for people who lived in the colony. Because the officials who drew the Durand Line didn’t consider the ethnic groups that lived in the region, today there are many battles along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. On one side is the Pakistani army, made up mostly of Punjabis, and on the other is the Taliban, made up mostly of Pashtuns.The Afghanistan government encourages the Pashtun people inside Pakistan to have their own separate state inside that country. For the 41 million Pashtuns in the region, support is also growing for a separate country called Pashtunistan. Pashtunistan is also the name for the area between Afghanistan and Pakistan where most Pashtuns live.Right now, the Durand Line passes through the Pakistani provinces of North-West Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and Balochistan. It also includes 10 provinces in Afghanistan.The conflict between the Taliban, the Afghanistan government, the Pakistani government, and foreign (including American) troops in the area is often violent. The Durand Line endures suicide bombs, air strikes, or street fighting almost every day.
Afghan parliamentarian backs Durand Line as border
ISLAMABAD: An Afghan parliamentarian has urged his government to set aside its differences with Pakistan and accept Durand Line as its border as it is already an ‘internationally accepted border’.Abdul Latif Pedram, a lawmaker and head of the Hezb-e-Kongara Milli Afghanistan (National Congress Party of Afghanistan), was speaking to newsmen in Kabul on Sunday following recent statements by some Afghan leaders, including Hamid Karzai, that Kabul will not accept Durand Line as its official border.The Afghan lawmaker said his party recognises Durand Line as the official border and most of the tension between the two countries is rooted in Kabul’s failure to publicly acknowledge this, according to social media reports.Solving problems with Pakistan will help bring peace to Afghanistan,” said Pedram.He claimed that the government “quietly accepts the Durand Line as the border but is not honest in its recognition with the public.” He challenged the government to approach the United Nations if it does not recognise the Durand Line.“Peace and stability will be guaranteed in the region when the issue is resolved,” he said, adding that the Durand Line had been the cause of disputes in the region over the past several decades.
Durand Line A reality that cannot be changed
Mr Latif Pidram, a senior Afghan politician and Chairman of the National Congress Party of Afghanistan (NCPA), gave a statement on the Durand Line on his Facebook page on December 24, 2016. He said: “I believe that Durand Line is a border like any other border of neighbouring countries. There is no dispute on this border.However, during Karzai’s govt, I had demanded MoFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Afghanistan) that if any such dispute exists then it should be taken to the international Court of Justice along with valid legal supporting documents. If you have no supporting legal documents, then I do not accept it as a disputed border. If NCPA came to power, we would accept it as international boundary.”The statement is certainly a breeze of fresh air coming from a noted Afghan politician. As it is, there is no basis to the Afghan objections to the settled issue of Durand Line. Last year, former Afghan president Karzai had termed the formation of Durand Line a “result of British imperialism” in the region. He said that
“Pakistan government has taken some steps on Durand Line which are angering Afghans”. When asked as to why Afghanistan does not approach the UN or International Court of Justice over the Durand Line issue, Karzai claimed it was not an international issue but ‘inheritance of imperialism’ and only the respective governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan could resolve this issue.Earlier, John Kirby, the spokesman for the US Department of State, had categorically stated that “It’s the recognised border, and we recognise the borders of Afghanistan.” He added “We don’t have any new policies with respect to the borders of Afghanistan.”The Durand Line is a 1,400-mile-long border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, established in 1893. It was demarcated following an agreement between Sir Mortimer Durand, a representative of British India, and Abdur Rahman Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan. His successor, Amir Habibullah Khan, signed a new agreement with Britain in 1905 and accepted the legality of the previous accord and the Durand Line.It should be noted that on the basis of Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919, Afghanistan reclaimed its independence. The article five of the treaty firmly and decisively states that Afghanistan accepts all previously agreed border arrangements with India. Thus there is no question of Mr Karzai going anywhere.An IPS research paper on the subject had stated: “Among the factors responsible for expansion of the dispute on the Durand Line is the lack of information available to the common Afghan. Afghan intellectuals and scholars have tended to blindly support the policy of former governments, unaware of whether or not it is rational. According to some scholars, Afghan governments have adopted this policy deliberately, to indulge the masses with an imaginary enemy and divert their attention from internal issues. Consequently, due to trust and confidence of people in their leaders, intellectuals and media besides the extension of the Durand Line issue; they have inferred that the agreement is free from any legal and moral justification. Thus, even if it desires friendly relations with Pakistan, the Afghan leadership is unable to take any steps in this direction owing to public opposition.”Some nationalists in the KP also share the views of Hamid Karzai, claiming that one day they would abolish the Durand Line.
Durand Line Agreements Collapsed with British India
The collapse of British India in 1947 paved the way for Afghan revolt against the legitimacy of the Durand Line. During a meeting with the British Secretary of Foreign Affairs on July 31, 1947, Afghan Prime Minister Shah Mahmood Khan declared that all agreements in respect of the Indo-Afghan border had been concluded with British Indian authorities, and therefore all of them would be null and void after British India ceased to exist and power was handed over to the new state of Pakistan. This official viewpoint of the Government of Afghanistan was announced before August 14, 1947, the day Pakistan attained independence.
Consequently, Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan were hostile since the latter’s birth as a Muslim state. As mentioned earlier, Afghan foreign policy was based on denunciation of the Durand Line and strict support of Pakhtoonistan. For decades, the local media, Afghan consulates and embassies all over the world strived systematically to disseminate this official viewpoint.
However, international law does not support this stand of the Afghan government. At the international level, issues pertaining to succession of states are dealt with by the “Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties (VCSSRT).” Article 11 of VCSSRT explicitly states that succession of states cannot impact (a) international border agreed upon in result of an agreement, and (b) rights and obligations concerning international border created through an agreement. Thus, under this agreement, the cessation of British India and birth of Pakistan as its successor in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent does not affect the legality of the border.
However, according to article 7 of VCSSRT, the treaty is not enforceable retrospectively. Now, VCSSRT was drafted in 1978 and did not enter into force until 1996, when the required number of states announced its ratification. Thus, it came into being several decades after Pakistan’s creation. Moreover, Afghanistan is not a signatory to VCSSRT. These points raise the question whether the international treaty applies to the Durand Line issue.
As far as Afghanistan’s not being a signatory to the treaty is concerned, it is immaterial whether the country announces its succession or not. VCSSRT was ratified by a huge number of states — including Pakistan — and achieved enforceability in 1996. Moreover, regarding issues that are beyond its scope, the preamble to VCSSRT explicitly states that such issues will be dealt with in accordance with customary international law. Since customary international law is in any case a source of international treaty law, the argument that Durand Line issue predates the VCSSRT and is therefore out of its scope would lead to the same results: international law does not support Afghanistan’s stance that the Durand Line becomes invalid after the creation of Pakistan.
If Afghanistan and Pakistan agree to take the Durand Line dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), it seems impossible that the Afghan stand that the legitimacy of the Durand Line lapsed after the succession of Pakistan could be proved at any level.
The Durand Line is the only Afghan border demarked through bilateral understanding with its ex-neighbor, and yet the only border that Afghanistan is not willing to recognize. Under international law and the international legal regime, Afghanistan’s objections to the Durand Line are unlikely to find any significant support.
Among the factors responsible for expansion of the dispute on the Durand Line is the lack of information available to the common Afghan. Afghan intellectuals and scholars have tended to blindly support the policy of former governments, unaware of whether or not it is rational. According to some scholars, Afghan governments have adopted this policy deliberately, to indulge the masses with an imaginary enemy and divert their attention from internal issues. Consequently, due to trust and confidence of people in their leaders, intellectuals and media besides the extension of the Durand Line issue; they have inferred that the Agreement is free from any legal and moral justification. Thus, even if it desires friendly relations with Pakistan, the Afghan leadership is unable to take any steps in this direction owing to public opposition.
In fact, this hesitation to diverge from the traditional acrimonious stance against Pakistan is discernable in all spheres of leadership in Afghanistan, whether the leaders represent the Afghan government, civil society or the public. It seems as if each of these elements of Afghan society has immured itself within a tight circle of thought, afraid of condemnation from the other two elements if they violate the circle by demanding a peaceful and realistic solution of the issue. What is certain, meanwhile, are the negative implications of the unstable relationship with Pakistan, which may be observed in different spheres of life in Afghanistan.If Afghanistan sincerely intends to improve its relations with Pakistan, it will have to break these circles. The least it could do is make the thus-far confidential instruments relating to the Durand Line public to help people to understand the real situation. Later on, Afghanistan could open a chapter of understanding with Pakistan in a relatively friendly environment that is free of irresponsible statements and lack of information leading to public pressure and finally reach a permanent solution to the Durand Line issue.
Obviously, continuation of tense relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan will not favor either country. Besides, both of them wish to enjoy peaceful and friendly relations. As far as, Afghanistan’s national interests are concerned, provisions exist in each agreement relating to the Pak-Afghan border that favor Afghanistan. For example, each agreement obligated British India to allow transit of goods from its ports through its territory to Afghanistan. It is imperative that Afghanistan understand that such a permission for transit through another state is not, as it seems to believe, a right but an incentive: according to international law, under the principle of sovereignty, every state exercises complete authority over its resources, natural or otherwise, and every act challenging the sovereignty of a state is illegal and condemnable. The present strategy of Afghanistan to secure more concessions from Pakistan such as transit trade, considering the same as its “rights”, seems to be less effective. It would be better for the country to improve its relations with Pakistan to a level where Pakistan’s national interests, particularly economic, converge with those of Afghanistan.
Notably, it is not just the Durand Line issue that needs to be solved to normalize relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the decades since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the interests of Pakistan’s foreign policy in that country have expanded further than the former Pakistani leadership could even have imagined. On the other hand, solution of the issue never means that an iron wall has been established between both the countries as to divide the alike-cultured masses. To create such an iron wall would neither be possible in the current age, nor in accordance with Afghanistan’s regional economic programs of Afghanistan.
Even though it is not the sole source of contention, however, efforts for the resolution of the Durand Line issue could lay the foundation for establishing a peaceful and brotherly environment between the two states leading to more stable relations between them.
In the required efforts to resolve the Durand Line issue, it is obvious that the parliament of Afghanistan would be the proper forum for discussing and deciding, as for all other matters of national importance. What is even more important in this context, however, is that the people’s representatives know the complete facts of the issue before it is taken to the parliament’s floor. Failure to apprise the Afghan leaders and people of the facts would once again mean irresponsible statements from all quarters, including the Afghan parliament, and a bleak future for relations with Pakistan.