Durand Line is the official border between Pakistan and Afghanistan but Afghanistan refuses to recognize it whenever it wants to foment trouble with Pakistan. The 2640 Km long international boundary was drawn as a result of an agreement reached between Sir Mortimer Durand, a British diplomat and civil servant and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan on 12 November 1893 to delineate the border between the Emirate of Afghanistan and British India. The ensuing agreement resulted in a frontier that ran from the Karakoram Range in the northeast running south through the Spin Ghar mountains (Safed Koh and Toba Kakar Ranges) before turning west along the Chagai Hills to the border with Iran. The Durand Line divided the Pashtun tribal lands in two, with half of the Pashtun tribal region becoming part of British India and the balance remaining part of Afghanistan. The line also resulted in the loss of the province of Baluchistan to British India, depriving Afghanistan of its historic access to the Arabian Sea. The Durand Line would become one of the principal issues of Afghanistan’s foreign policy for the next century and even now remains at the heart of Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan although subsequent Afghan governments reaffirmed the boundary line in additional treaties and agreements in 1905, 1919, 1921, and 1930.
When Pakistan gained independence in 1947, it inherited the boundary line delineated by the 1893 Durand agreement and upheld by the subsequent treaty of Rawalpindi (1919) that ended the Third Anglo-Afghan war. Rejecting Pakistan’s contention, Afghanistan laid territorial claims on areas stretching from the Afghan-Pakistan border to the Indus River, which comprises nearly 60 percent of Pakistani territory.
In 1947, when Pakistan joined the United Nations, Afghanistan was the only member to vote against its membership.
Pakistan’s stand is supported by international convention under uti possidetis juris that after its independence, there was no requirement of ratification of the Durand Line agreement between Islamabad and Kabul. International Courts and the Vienna Convention have universally upheld via uti possidetis juris that binding bilateral agreements are “passed down” to successor states. Thus, a unilateral declaration by one party has no effect; boundary changes must be made bilaterally. In 1950 the House of Commons of the United Kingdom held its view on the Afghan-Pakistan dispute over the Durand Line by stating:
His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom has seen with regret the disagreements between the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan about the status of the territories on the North West Frontier. It is His Majesty’s Government’s view that Pakistan is in international law the inheritor of the rights and duties of the old Government of India and of his Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom in these territories and that the Durand Line is the international frontier.
—Philip Noel-Baker, June 30, 1950
Forty six years later, Afghanistan provided a fresh spin to the Durand Line issue, insisting that the agreement was for a 100 year period, which terminated in 1993 although the document signed between Sir Mortimer Durand and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan makes no mention of it.
In the last seven decades, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been hot and cold. Pakistan became a founding member of the US led SEATO and CENTO defence pacts while Afghanistan chose to join the Soviet camp.
Moscow willingly provided arms to Afghanistan and agreed to train Afghan military personnel, while it granted Afghanistan $2.5 billion in military and economic aid between 1953 and 1978. In addition, thousands of Afghans went to military schools in the Soviet Union between 1953 and 1978; some of the participants staged two coups in 1973 and 1978, paving the way for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Following Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, ironically it was Pakistan which came to the rescue of Afghans. Pakistan hosted over five million Afghan refugees for more than three decades and spearheaded the coalition to shelter, train, equip and launch Afghan Mujahedeen to thwart the Soviet occupation. Pakistan paid an enormous price because USSR deemed it as the enemy and launched aerial and ground bombardment assaults besides unleashing terror attacks on Pakistani targets. Thousands of Pakistanis participated in the international jihad to liberate Afghanistan. Once the Soviet troops withdrew after a decade long occupation, Afghanistan was embroiled in a power struggle by the warlords. Pakistan supported the Taliban to gain supremacy, for which it lost the confidence of many Afghans.
9/11 unleashed the ire of the US, which led an international coalition to invade Afghanistan. Fourteen years of occupation resulted in making Afghanistan even more unsafe. The Taliban regrouped and became stronger, posing real and present danger to the allied troops as well as the puppet regimes of Hamid Karzai, followed by Dr. Ashraf Ghani and his unity government. In the bargain, India found it opportune to use Afghan soil to install RAW operatives for backing terrorist groups to destabilize Pakistan. It also poisoned successive Afghan governments against Pakistan.
The Durand Line issue became a handy tool for India to exploit. According to Indian media, India’s biggest publishing house Rupa Publishers is bringing out a sensational book on the Durand Line written by Ambassador Rajiv Dogra, a veteran diplomat, who is one of India’s foremost commentators on foreign affairs. The joint Indo-Afghan venture is to mount pressure on Pakistan by actively reviving the Durand Line issue so it is likely to further defame Pakistan by spewing venom in the upcoming book.
The book is expected to be released in autumn 2017 but hype is being built that Ambassador Dogra is going to reveal heretofore unpublished data shedding light on the line that Mortimer Durand drew across a small map in 1893, which has bled the Pashtun heart ever since. He claims that more than a century later both sides of that line remain restless. But the mystery behind what actually happened on 12 November 1893 has never been solved. Why did Amir Abdur Rahman sign blindly on a document? Was he forced to do so? Dogra reportedly uses centuries old documents to bring out a new perspective; one that challenges the current history.
It is too early to comment on the book but Dogra conjectures that the Durand Line messily divides Pashtun people between Afghanistan and Pakistan, splitting tribes, clans and families. It is also the reason for the difficulties faced by the West in its current struggle against terror.
Sadly, the Durand Line is the only Afghan border demarcated through bilateral understanding with British India and now Pakistan, and yet the only border that Afghanistan is not willing to recognize. Under international law and the legal regime, Afghanistan’s objections to the Durand Line are unlikely to cut any ice.
Successive Afghan regimes have kept the bogey of the Durand Line alive by spreading disinformation to the common Afghan. Unfortunately, Afghan academia has also indulged in intellectual dishonesty by blindly supporting the policy of former governments, without delving into the veracity of their claims.
Some opinion builders opine that Afghan governments have adopted this policy deliberately, to indulge the masses with an imaginary enemy and divert their attention from internal issues of corruption and bad governance. This sorry state of affairs has raised the specter of Afghan regimes as well as their subjects believing that the Durand Line Agreement is free from any legal and moral justification. Thus, even if Afghanistan desires friendly relations with Pakistan, the Afghan leadership is unable to take any steps in this direction owing to public opposition.
Pakistan needs to categorically declare to Afghanistan that the Durand Line has been ratified by several Afghan governments in the past and is not open for debate but it must prepare for the eventuality that backed by India, Afghanistan will raise the issue in the United Nations.