by Musa Khan Jalalzai
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have remained strained due to the Durand Line dispute. Successive Afghan governments refused to recognise the Durand Line as a legitimate border between the two countries. The borderland is predominantly inhabited by Pashtun tribes who were divided by then Afghan ruler Abdul Rahman Khan’s wrong decision in 1893. This issue has been a major cause of strained relations between the two states. Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan has realised the importance of the other.
Afghan rulers followed the policy of confrontation towards Pakistan, while Pakistan, since its independence, has failed to evolve a pragmatic Afghan policy. The country followed a predominantly pro-American policy for the last 60 years. Since the creation of Pakistan, both the states have interfered in each other’s internal affairs time and again, but there has never been a turn to full-scale war. In 1971, during the Bangladesh war, the Afghan security forces were guarding Pakistan’s border. Similarly, Pakistan helped the people of Afghanistan during the Soviet intervention in 1979.
The border dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan was created by Great Britain in 1893 in exchange for arms and cash offered to the Afghan ruler Amir Abdur Rahman Khan. The perception that Amir Abdur Rahman was under pressure to accept the Durand Line Treaty and had no freedom to negotiate with Great Britain, forcing him to sign the agreement, is totally wrong.
Abdur Rahman was in a hurry and willingly demanded the settlement of the border dispute with British India and asked for sending a British Mission to Kabul in October 1888 and again in 1893. Sir Mortimer Durand was welcomed with a royal reception. Amir Abdur Rahman was well satisfied with the outcome of his negotiations with Sir Mortimer Durand. As Britain came to know that there was no proper discussion between Balochistan and Afghanistan on the Durand Agreement, it continued to reaffirm the Durand Line Agreement with the Afghan rulers from 1901 to 1973.
Now, coming to the legality of the Durand Line as an internationally recognised border, Afghanistan has been adamantly denying the legitimacy of the Durand Line since 1947, while Pakistan accepts it as a legitimate border between the two states. Pakistan says that its legitimacy was confirmed for the first time by the statement of Mr Noel Baker, secretary of state for the Commonwealth in the British House of Commons on June 30, 1950. Moreover, in 1956, the ministerial council of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) in a Karachi meeting also reaffirmed the recognition of the Durand Line as the internationally recognised boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In 1949, when the Afghan national assembly rejected all treaties signed with Britain, including the Durand Line agreement, the people of Waziristan did not react warmly. They were now settled and enjoying a happy life within the boundaries of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Moreover, the humiliation of their tribal elders at the hands of Abdur Rahman and his colleagues in Kabul and their expulsion from Afghanistan forcefully ensured that neither the people of Waziristan nor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa show specific interest in an independent Pashtunistan. In their understanding, this is the political game Afghan and Pakistani rulers have been enjoying since 1947.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Afghanistan extended the demand of independent Pashtunistan to some areas of Balochistan, but political parties and tribal chiefs reacted in a normal way. No Afghan ruler has sincerely responded to the feelings of the Pashtun tribes across the border. Zahir Shah once decided to make a compromise on Pashtunistan and enter into a confederation agreement with Pakistan. President Daud was willing to settle the issue with Pakistan between 1977 and 1978 during his visit to Pakistan. He visited Muhammad Ziaul Haq with this spirit and invited him to settle the border issue forever. In 1979, President Nur Muhammad Tarakai agreed to give up the claim of independent Pashtunistan provided Pakistan cut off support to the Afghan mujahideen groups. President Tarakai was a politician and was well aware of the consequences of military confrontation with Pakistan.
President Dr Muhammad Najibullah once told my uncle Khan Jahan Khan that he cannot fire a single bullet towards Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and cannot hurt his Pashtun sisters, mothers and brothers. But the Afghan ruler neither offered the Pashtuns of Pakistan the citizenship of Afghanistan nor gave them the right of vote. They never accepted them as Afghans nor allowed them to visit Afghanistan without a Pakistani passport. This is the secret story of ‘independent Pashtunistan’ that Afghan rulers developed dramatically.
My understanding is that this was just a political game the Afghan and Pakistani rulers played for protecting their political interests at the expense of the poor Pashtun people. Today’s backward and ethnically divided Afghanistan still demands the return of its land and people its ruler sold for nothing, but the international community now recognises the Durand Line as the Pak-Afghan legitimate border
Some Afghan leaders are of the opinion that the Durand Agreement had a life of 100 years, and, as such, lost its legal standing in 1993. My answer to them is that the present-day Afghanistan has not been able to control its territory or extend the writ of the government to the whole of the country, how can it possibly manage the human, economic, political, health and food security of the people of both Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?
Pashtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are not willing to join Afghanistan or struggle for an independent Pashtunistan. They understand they will not be able to manage an independent state economically. They have sympathy with their Afghan brothers but do not want to join them as we saw that the internally displaced persons (IDPs) of Pakistan preferred to remain in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa instead of taking refuge in Afghanistan. An independent Pashtunistan state is an economic impossibility and will be more dangerous for Afghanistan than for Pakistan.
Finally, I must suggest that both Pakistan and Afghanistan must not allow the Durand Line to become a flashpoint. They should open-heartedly accept the independent status of each other. As most of the Asian frontiers and borders have not been demarcated by Asians themselves, but by colonial powers, therefore nobody can insist on the inviolability of any frontier, including the Durand Line. The Great Game and military confrontations between Russia and Great Britain caused the fixing of the Durand Line, which brought the Khyber Pass and Quetta under British-Indian control. In summation, Pakistan and Afghanistan as two Muslim neighbouring states must understand the importance of each other.
The writer is author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and Punjabi Taliban. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org