Durand Line Complexities

By: Juma Khan Sufi
Published: October 1, 2017
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The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is one of the world’s most volatile areas. From the Great Game to the war on terror, for centuries this area has been the site of many battles fought by armies from around the globe. Yet curiously enough, the border is still referred to as the Durand Line, a legacy of British colonial rule. And few realise that the Durand Line has been a bone of contention since 1947.

Recently, a sane voice emerged from the US when Democrat lawmaker from California, Brad Sherman, told a House Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs to make aid to Afghanistan conditional to the recognition of the Durand Line by Kabul. He argued that as long as Afghanistan left open the idea that they were claiming Pakistani territory, it was going to be very hard, as they needed Pakistan involved in controlling the Taliban.

He rightly pointed out that India was prodding Afghanistan on that issue to the detriment of the interests of Pakistan. Sherman has nailed the real issue, which is the basis of the Pakistan bashing and incessant hatred against Pakistan since 1947.  Until and unless this issue is permanently settled, Pakistan bashing will continue in Afghanistan whether the current issues of the Taliban, the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network remain or become part of history.

Former Pakistan President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s greatest disservice was bowing to US dictates, without any tangible quid pro quo on Afghanistan, for launching a war against the Taliban. For his unconditional cooperation, he should have demanded a firm and clear recognition of the Pakistan-Afghan border from Kabul.  It’s unclear why Pakistan’s policy makers in Islamabad remain oblivious to a basic, grassroots knowledge of Afghanistan, despite having harboured the Mujahideen and hosted millions of Afghans for decades.

It is a misnomer to refer to this border as the Durand Line given that originally it was not meant to be a permanent, international de jure border. It simply divided the spheres of influence of the two countries; Afghanistan and British India. Therefore, the need arose for a fresh treaty under a new ruler of Afghanistan. It was only the third Anglo-Afghan war, unleashed by Amir Amanullah Khan, which cancelled all pre-existing bilateral treaties, including the Durand Treaty, before the conclusion of the 1919 peace agreement which later culminated in the Friendship Treaty of 1921. The British based their argument on this treaty after Afghanistan raised the issue of Afghan irredentism. The British were not so naive as to cite the Durand Treaty of 1893 as a permanent border treaty, given that it was signed with a ruler who was not fully independent, especially in foreign affairs.

Interestingly, India considered itself the rightful successor of British India, including of its treaties’ obligations, but patted Afghanistan on the back on this issue just for destabilising Pakistan

The treaty of 1921 concluded with a sovereign King of Afghanistan and became the basis of a de jure border.  It would perhaps be relevant to call it the Aman Line and not the Durand Line, as King Amanullah imparted new meaning and complexion to the 1893 treaty.  But since King Amanullah is popular in Afghanistan, Afghans overlook his deeds and misdeeds and cast aspersions on his grand-father, Amir Abdul Rehman Khan, who in reality is the architect of modern Afghanistan.

When Pakistan became independent, Afghanistan opposed its entry into the comity of nations at the United Nations in September 1947. The subsequent Pakhtunistan movement was launched in which Afghanistan unilaterally revoked all the treaties reached with British India in 1949 and endorsed it by the Loya Jirga of 1955.  Hereafter, the issue of non-recognition of the so-called Durand Line was started, vitiating the atmosphere between the two countries. Congress rulers of India and, especially the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, contributed immensely to this mess.  As a Kashmiri pandit, he joined hands with Lord Mountbatten and created the Kashmir problem, encouraged their erstwhile ally, Ghaffar Khan and secretly played on the sensitivities of Afghans to stoke the issue of Pakhtunistan from Kabul.

Interestingly, India considered itself the rightful successor of British India, including of its treaties’ obligations, but patted Afghanistan on the back on this issue just for destabilising Pakistan. Congress accepted, or rather imposed, the partition of India as they doubted the survival of Pakistan and expected Pakistan would ultimately be forced to rejoin India on Delhi’s terms.  Therefore, initially Ghaffar Khan dithered in the acceptance of Pakistan as he was assured by Nehru that ultimately Pakhtunistan would be created for him.

The name Pakhtunistan was born on the eve of Partition as the Congress press started harping on the issue of ‘Pathanistan,’ going against the wishes of the Quaid-i-Azam, as agreed with Ghaffar Khan, on June 18, 1947. The ‘Frontier Gandhi’ demanded the third option of a Pakhtun State on June 21, 1947 in the proposed referendum imposed by Mountbatten and Congress, as opposed to the wishes of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammed Ali Jinnah, who wanted fresh elections in the province.  It was the Afghan government which changed the name ‘Pathanistan’ into Pakhtunistan as testified by the then Afghan Chief of Propaganda Department (Information Ministry) Syed Qasim Rishtia in his Political Memoirs in Dari.  (For details, read my book Ghaffar Khan – Reluctant Nationalist.)

There is a wealth of material written by Afghans in Pashto and Dari about the Durand Line and Pakhtunistan, which they still celebrate on August 31 each year.  Their argument boils down to this:  the Durand Treaty was time-bound like the Hong Kong treaty and has expired in 1993 after the completion of 100 years.  Secondly, it carries no legality as it was signed with a puppet Ameer who did not represent the Afghan nation. Thirdly, the treaty was signed with British India and, after the cessation of British rule in India, the question of the border treaty remains open and Pakistan cannot be considered the rightful successor.

Afghanistan is a tribal society where argument may not necessarily carry any academic, historic or documentary proof.  Their argument is always based on misinformation and emotions.  And some attitudes, very much entrenched, are transmitted to new generations. This is applicable mainly to Pakhtuns and non-Pakhtuns do not care about the issue in general since they are under Indian influence.  But the officially sanctioned literature written during Zahir Shah’s era, plus Daoud’s dynasty, still carry weight and any outside interpretations of history hardly appeal to Afghans.

It appears that Kabul can’t be persuaded to recognise the border. The reluctance of Afghanistan to join hands with Pakistan to participate in border management, and block the cross-border infiltration of terrorists, stems from this issue

If we seek to shred their argument, then firstly, the Durand Treaty was never time-bound, nor was it meant as fixing the frontier of the two states. Rather, after the death of one signatory, Amir Abdul Rehman Khan, his successor and son, Amir Haibullah Khan, who inherited the mantle of power, was invited by Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, to come to Rawalpindi and sign a new treaty, which the new Ameer rejected as he considered the Durand Treaty, concluded by his father, sufficient to conduct relations with India.

To this, the Viceroy replied that the same treaty was personal, not dynastic and every new ruler had to sign a fresh treaty.  To apply pressure on him, the Indian authorities stopped the shipment of arms to Afghanistan and stopped paying the subsidy of Rs. 18 lacs to him as had been agreed with his father. So in December 1904, he was forced to invite the British Indian Foreign Secretary, Sir Louis Dane, for negotiations.

After three months of excruciating talks, the Ameer refused to sign a new treaty, but signed a very short treaty subscribing to the contents of the Durand Treaty.  Had it been a permanent treaty, logically the need for the treaty of 1905 would not have arisen.

Secondly, the argument of signing the treaty with a puppet Ameer carries no weight as the treaty was never meant to demarcate a permanent border.  It was Ameer Amanullah Khan who after the death of his father, Ameer Habibullah Khan, launched the third Anglo-Afghan war for the achievement of independence.

He achieved the objective of independence, but permanently lost the right to reclaim the so-called Afghan land, then incorporated in British India and now an integral and legal part of Pakistan. The August 1919 peace agreement sealed the fate of the 1893 Durand Treaty. An annexure to this treaty, comprising a letter from Sir Hamilton Grant, British India negotiator and foreign secretary at Delhi, to the query of Ali Ahmad Khan, Afghan chief negotiator, clearly spelt out that Afghanistan thenceforth was internally and externally independent, the arrears of the subsidy paid to his father were confiscated, arms shipment stopped and all bilateral treaties (1839, 1855, 1879, 1893 and 1905 etc.) before the said war between the two sides stood cancelled. Therefore, this treaty can be termed the Aman Line treaty as Amanullah Khan imparted a permanent character to the border.

Common sense also dictates that the peace restored between the two sides, whether they be individuals, families, communities, tribes or countries, after the last war between each other, nullifies all the agreements before that date.  Afterwards, in 1921, another treaty of friendship and inauguration of commercial ties was signed between the two which was entirely based on the 1919 treaty and not a single allusion was made to the Durand Treaty.  It reads: “The Two High Contracting Parties accept the Indo-Afghan frontier as accepted by the Afghan Government under Article V of the Treaty concluded at Rawalpindi on the 8th August 1919, corresponding to the 11th Ziqada 1337 Hijra …”

Thirdly, the argument that the treaty was signed with British India and, after its withdrawal the Durand Treaty stood automatically terminated, is untenable.  It would imply that the Afghan authorities unilaterally cancelled all the treaties concluded with British India, but this is not a legal position. This stance violates all international norms and obligations and goes against internationally recognised Geneva conventions and protocols.  Had the extinction of one side nullified the existence of an internationally recognised border, the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan would also have carried no legal justification as both the sides signatory to the treaty, British India and Czarist Russia (or the Soviet Union) are extinct.  And this border has also divided Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen.

It appears that Kabul can’t be persuaded to recognise the border. The reluctance of Afghanistan to join hands with Pakistan to participate in border management, and block the cross-border infiltration of terrorists, stems from this issue. In this connection, it would be pertinent to mention two recent episodes of which I have direct knowledge.

Whatever Afghans think or perceive is not our concern. Pakistan has helped Afghanistan in many ways and can continue to follow its policy of appeasement and friendship without any hindrance

Former US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had decided to sign the Geneva Accord between Afghanistan and Pakistan on April 11, 1988.  At the eleventh hour, the leader of the Afghan delegation in Geneva, Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil, refused to sign it despite the continuous insistence of the Soviet advisor, Mr Kozerov, who was advising the delegation.

Moscow panicked and Gorbachev called on Afghan President Najibullah to prevail upon his foreign minister.  He made lengthy telephone calls to Wakil, telling him to obey as it was a party decision to sign the agreement and he was a party soldier.  Wakil replied that he was a party leader and executive committee member of the Watan Party, but not a soldier.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev sent his plenipotentiary ambassador in Afghanistan and deputy foreign minister, Yuli Voronsov, in his plane to Geneva.  Voronsov straightaway went to the Geneva Intercontinental Hotel where the Afghan delegation was staying and questioned Wakil’s attitude. Wakil then showed him the instrument of non-interference in the Accord, which indirectly implied the recognition of the border on the part of Afghanistan. Voronsov appreciated his stand and prevailed upon US foreign secretary George Schultz to change the wording. Schultz then did so by prevailing upon Pakistani foreign minister, Zain Noorani.  In this manner, the Accord was finally signed on April 14.

The issue arose again when US President George Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met in Washington and decided to convene a peace Loya Jirga of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Afghans are very passionate about Loya Jirgas. It was a strange decision.

It was initially decided that the Loya Jirga would be held in Kabul from 9-11 August, 2007 and would be addressed by both presidents, Karzai and Musharraf. A preparatory commission, headed by the late, die-hard Pakhtun nationalist politician, Azizullah Wasefi, was formed in Kabul. I was in Kabul at the time.  The commission deliberated the agenda of the peace Loya Jirga for a few days. The very first item on the agenda, put forward by Pakistan, was about mutual non-interference. The commission almost decided to reject the Jirga if the article remained on the agenda.

Meanwhile, Aftab Sherpao, the then interior minister and head of the Pakistani jirga, visited Kabul to apprise himself about the preparations and decide some matters beforehand, when the said contentious item was presented to him. Sherpao straightaway told the Afghans to remove it and the matter was settled there and then.  Sherpao did not come to know that the decision to reject it had been made.

But when Hamid Karzai said that Afghanistan would never recognise the Durand Line, but they want friendship with Pakistan and not fight for it, he expressed the prevalent environment. It is a strange combination of outbursts filled with hatred against Pakistan, combined with rhetorical claims of  friendship as a diplomatic tool. This is the origin of Pakistan bashing.  A solution to this issue is of paramount significance. The current allegations of scapegoating Pakistan for all the ills in Afghanistan, in which the US and other forces, especially India, are also complicit stem from this issue.  India clearly understands it has played a significant role in the inculcation of this attitude from the very start.

Pakistani policy makers are flabbergasted over the Afghan attitude. Despite hosting millions of Afghan refugees for decades, and helping and harbouring Afghan mujahideen in their struggle, without which they could not have released their country from the Soviet Union and reached the echelons of power, they not only remain thankless, but blame Pakistan for their own misdeeds.

Pakistan should always fulfill its side of the deal and leave Afghans to ponder over their ultimate destiny, a destiny which is geographically linked to Pakistan. Neither India nor Nato and the US can alter geographical reality

These policy makers have not penetrated the Afghan soul and have not read the Afghan mind, nurtured for decades on hatred against Pakistan. Despite liberally supporting them to the extent of allowing them to open Afghan educational institutes in Pakistan, letting them question the legitimacy of the Pak-Afghan border and casting aspersions on Pakistan in their curriculum, to then expect these Afghans to entertain goodwill for Pakistan amounts to lunacy. All Afghan refugees living, or having lived here, consider that they are/were living on their own land being illegally occupied by Pakistan.

Only reverse logic could persuade Afghans to change their mind.  Are we ready for it?  I doubt it.  Some well known and powerful voices must be raised in Pakistan, especially from Multan, as it is the birthplace of Ahmad Shah Abdali (Multani) in favour of non-recognition of the Pak-Afghan border, like Afghans calling upon the establishment to strive for the revival of Abdali country which comprised of present day Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole of Kashmir. Afghans have rejected Pakistani proposals of confederation and even of forming one united country in the past.  Only former Afghan President Daoud gave tacit approval to a proposed confederation of Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran with former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. But Bhutto was hanged; Daoud was toppled as was Iran’s Reza Shah Pahlavi.

This can obviously never materialise under the present circumstances as powerful forces inside and outside would oppose it tooth and nail. But it would help in exerting some logic to the Afghan mind.  Pakistan, at the official level, can raise the idea of a confederation as a last resort.  Though the Afghans would be incensed by it, as a corollary to their logic, it would render the border meaningless.

Similarly, a powerful voice may be raised in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) to call upon Afghans to enshrine their stand in the constitution, like Pakistan has done with Kashmir, or as other countries pleading the cause of irredentism have resorted to. Give Pakistani Pakhtoons citizenship and passport rights in Afghanistan, give them representation in parliament, give them the right to participate in elections and allow them to own property in Afghanistan.

This would test their sincerity to the cause. They would never acquiesce to this demand. A Pakhtoon would kill over a land boundary violation. Giving another person right to property would be anathema. Only a small fraction of Pakhtuns under the influence of two nationalist parties from KPK and Balochistan pay lip service to the Afghan stand, as they are sometimes fed a line from Kabul. Pragmatically, they espouse the cause of the Pakistani Constitution and the Afghan territorial claims carry no weight.

Neighbours cannot be chosen and these two countries are bound together geographically, historically, culturally, linguistically and religiously. The current policy of pursuing good neighbourly and friendly relations with Afghanistan is the need of the hour.  Whatever Afghans think or perceive is not our concern. Pakistan has helped Afghanistan in many ways and can continue to follow its policy of appeasement and friendship without any hindrance.  Pakistan should always fulfill its side of the deal and leave Afghans to ponder over their ultimate destiny, a destiny which is geographically linked to Pakistan. Neither India nor Nato and the US can alter geographical reality.

About the Author
Juma Khan Sufi
The writer is a veteran Pakhtun nationalist and has penned an autobiography, Faraib-e-Natamam, which dispelled the impression that Pakistan started the terrorist activities in Afghanistan