Afghan Taliban And The Durand Line Saga

Afghan Taliban And The Durand Line Saga
Just the day before Pakistan was to organise the foreign minister's conference of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) for the Afghan humanitarian crisis, the Durand Line conflict broke out once again.

Afghanistan being the arena of the great game and the biggest battleground on earth; had never been at ease for ages. History substantiates that the only thing certain every time after the fall of Kabul is the rejuvenation of the Durand line issue. Durand Line has been a long contention between ever-changing Afghan regimes and Pakistan. The dejure boundary was demarcated by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand (Foreign Secretary of British India) and Afghanistan’s Emir Abdur Rahman Khan. Signed in November 1893, It was a fully negotiated agreement between both regimes, that was also further reaffirmed subsequently by the later Afghan rulers through similar treaties and agreements. Despite Afghan claims of the Durand line agreement being arbitrary in nature, Emir Abdur Rahman’s autobiography states otherwise:

“Wakhan Kafiristan, Asmar, Mohmand of Lalpura, and one portion of Waziristan (Birmal) came under my rule, and I renounced my claims from the railway station of New Chaman, Chaghi, the rest of Waziri, Biland Khel, Kurrum, Afridi, Bajaur, Swat, Buner, Dir, Chilas, and Chitral.”

This clearly shows that the border is a mutually agreed covenant, starting from Koh-e-Malek Siah (The tri-junction of Persia, Afghanistan, and Balochistan) to Peshawar and thence to Baroghil Pass and Chitral. This legal acceptability puts all doubts, claims, rumors, and allegations to rest. According to official reports, more than 90% of fencing has been completed at the 2600 km long border. The incumbent “friendly” government as acclaimed by the top echelon has not been that much cordial neither at the border nor in the media. Take the recent statements of Taliban Interim Information Minister Zabiullah Mujahid and Defence Ministry’s spokesman Enayatullah Khwarizmi, in which they both have reiterated that the “Issue of the Durand Line is unresolved.” Exacerbating the conflict, Taliban forces had also been seen removing the fence and destroying the installations at the border. However, calling the current developments at the border just an attempt of miscreants by the Foreign Ministry can be witnessed as an attempt to keep maximum restraint.

The factual position, keeping the foregoing rationale in view, is quite evident that the subsequent treaties signed and ratified by the Afghan rulers nullify the 100-year validation of the agreement. It also negates the claim that the Durand Line was imposed by the British. As it can be substantiated by Article  I, Paragraph II of the agreement, which particularly states that neither the Afghan King nor the British Indian government would exercise any right or interference across the agreed-upon boundary. Another claim that the Line is arbitrary is easily refutable as it follows the well-recognized features and ages-old tribal boundaries except for just two tribes (Waziri and Mohmand). Pakistan being a state that emerged from colonial rule also keeps the rights and obligations of bilateral agreements done by its predecessor according to the international law of treaties. Furthermore, Pakistan’s stance on the permanency and legality of the Durand Line has been supported and validated by many British dignitaries in the British parliament. Few to name are the then British Foreign Secretary Lord Home in 1953 and the then British Prime Ministers; Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan in 1956 and 1960 respectively. 

Just a cursory glance at history would provide ample evidence in favour of the rationale that many borders have been drawn and redrawn in different eras. The readjustment and realignment of the Durand line based on historic accounts would be fatal for even Afghanistan itself – as it had been ruled by the monarchies based in India and Pakistan for centuries. The realignment of borders on historic grounds in the present era would do no good except for jeopardizing the whole current international order and would only cause chaos, confusion, and anarchy. Both countries have been in the vicious cyclical loop of border disputes for more than seven decades now. But is this the way forward for South-South cooperation?

Afghanistan is currently suppressed by multifaceted challenges. The political, humanitarian, and governance crisis is crumbling the country apart. An evil civil war is on its way if these crises are not dealt with accurate precautions. Certain measures by the global powers and the international community must be taken to avoid any other outbreak of anarchy, otherwise, the satan of terrorism will be at the doorsteps of every bordering country and in every state capital. The U.S should have put a comprehensive plan into action, starting with appointing an interim government followed by elections instead of the usual blame game and the “do more” rhetoric. The leader of the western block has again left Afghanistan, putting the country and region helpless at the hands of poverty, anarchy, and chaos. However, the U.S still has the chance to avoid the blunder it did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. It should not forsake Afghanistan again. Instead, it should join its efforts with regional players mainly with Pakistan to prevent any crisis out of the nascent Taliban rule. 

Pakistan on its part is playing its role wisely and accurately. With the recent OIC summit in Islamabad, Pakistan has particularly asked the member countries and the international community to play their roles in Afghanistan. However, after the Taliban took over Kabul, there has been a fifty-six percent rise in terror attacks across Pakistan. Lahore's Anarkali blast is the most recent and a direct consequence of the earlier respite from terror attacks. Peace should be our prime focus, but we must remember that peace holds little meaning without justice. These dire circumstances demand swift action from the state to counter TTP, which is currently operating at full throttle or at least trying to. With the menace of terrorism rearing its head again, it has also become imperative for Pakistan to change its current Af-Pak policy tout de suite to prevent any misfortune for the indigenous people.   

After the current shift in Pakistan’s policy from geo-strategic to geo-economic, Islamabad must focus on the elevation of regional cooperation and integration by keeping organizations like ECO, SCO, and SAARC in the loop. Regional cooperation followed by global participation in the international fora is the only way forward in the interconnected and economic driven world. Afghanistan being at the crossroads of the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia, serves as “As-Sirat '' for Pakistan and the region at large to integrate socially, culturally, politically, and economically. No peace in Afghanistan means no peace in the region. Beijing is also concerned regarding the current situation of Kabul, as its security is the biggest impediment to President Xi’s (BRI) vision in South Asia. Beijing has already offered its hand to Afghanistan to join BRI and CPEC by calling it a natural partner at an event in Islamabad. 

Pakistan has also been working on Peshawar-Torkham and Torkham-Jalalabad roads that would complement CPEC. As the lesson of history has always been vividly clear; either cooperate and advance together or suffer separately and individually. Following that, Afghanistan can achieve its true potential if it sets aside the disputes and focuses on its poverty alleviation and economic integration of the region. Pakistan is already helping Kabul in this process, and both countries can benefit if the bilateral disputes are resolved and peace prevails. Afghanistan can benefit as a transit route and Pakistan as a trading hub, for the countries that want to join the CPEC.