Durand Line: Bone of contention!

By Lutfur Rehman 

Low-level tension was witnessed in Pak-Afghan relations last month on the question of the Durand Line. The tension erupted with the statement of US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman. He reaffirmed Washington’s stand about the Pak-Afghan border. 

In an interview with Channel One TV network in Kabul, Marc Grossman said  the Durand Line is an internationally recognized border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly reacted to the statement. A spokesman of the ministry Janan Musazai said that the status of the Durand Line was a matter of historic importance for the Afghan people. Washington rejected the Afghan criticism regarding its stand on the Durand Line. Talking to journalists in Kandahar, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham said a number of countries, including America, recognized the Durand Line as an international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In addition to this, the State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told newsmen at press briefing that the US policy on Durand Line has not changed. She clarified that “it was correctly stated by Ambassador Grossman that we see this as the internationally recognised boundary.” Explaining Pakistan’s stand regarding the Pak-Afghan border at weekly press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mozzam Ahmed Khan Pakistan said “the Durand Line is a closed and settled issue. We regard it as the recognized international border, and the international community also recognizes it so.”

The question of the Durand Agreement is a bone of contention between the two countries since creation of Pakistan in 1947. Pakistan-Afghan diplomatic relations were severed twice on this very issue in 1950s and 1960s. It is still the main hurdle in improvement of Pak-Afghan relations. Pak-Afghan border was demarcated under the Durand Agreement signed in Kabul on November 12, 1893. This is perhaps the only treaty of the world so widely misquoted. Some circles claim that the Durand Agreement was to stay for one century and it expired in 1993. But this is perpetual treaty with no time limit. Article 2 and 3 of the agreement say that Afghanistan will at no time interfere on this side of the border.

Similarly, under international law, treaty relating to border can’t be cancelled unilaterally. Some writers say that Pak-Afghan border has not been demarcated anywhere with the exception of Torkham and Chaman. However, this is not the case. The whole border has been demarcated by three special commissions. These include the Asmar Boundary Commission, Waziristan Boundary Commission and Baluch-Afghan Boundary Commission. Only 28 km of the 2590 km long Pak-Afghan is un-demarcated. It includes 24 km long Mohmand Agency and 4 km at Sikaram hill top in Kurram Agency. It is incorrect to say that Amir Abdur Rahman signed the treaty under duress.

The Amir says about this treaty that “the misunderstandings and disputes which were arising about these frontier matters were put to an end, and after the boundary lines had been marked out according to the above-mentioned agreements by the Commissioners of both Governments, a general peace and harmony reigned between the two Governments, which I pray God may continue forever.” Afghans argue that the Durand Agreement is of suspicious nature as it is in English and the Amir did not understand English. But this is not the case. Durand Agreement is bilingual treaty having text both in Persian and English. The whole discussion between Amir Abdur Rahman and Mortimer Durand was held in Persian as the later was a scholar of Persian language. Mortimer Durand even delivered ex tempo speech in Persian at signing ceremony of the treaty in Kabul.

Afghanistan did not cede a single inch territory to the British India under the Durand Agreement. Kabul achieved maximum benefits from this treaty. It gained control over Asmar, Hissara, Marawara and Shortan areas of Bajour under this accord. It may be recalled that Afghanistan since 1861 was making hectic efforts to gain control over Asmar. But its hopes were always dashed to the ground by the British authorities. When this area was occupied by the Afghan Commander-in-Chief, Ghulam Haider Khan in 1892, the Viceroy sent a letter to Amir Abdur Rahman in June 1892, registering protest over the intrusion. The issue of Asmar was the toughest topic of negotiations between Amir Abdur Rahman and Sir Mortimer Durand. In order to achieve the breakthrough, Mortimer Durand acceded to the Amir’s demand and allowed him to have Asmar under his control. Afghanistan also benefited at the time of the delimitation of the border in Chitral, Dir and Bajour.

A vast area of Bajour on the southern side of Kunar River was given to Afghanistan by the British Commissioner in the Asmar Boundary Commission, Sir Richard Udny. This resulted in the siege of Chitral in 1895. Sir Richard Udny also allowed Afghanistan to occupy Bashgal valley of Chitral thus depriving the latter from its all weather road. Afghanistan occupied another area of Chitral i.e. Dokalim in 1916 and wanted to capture the whole area up to the Lowari top. However, the British authorities approved Chitral-Gilgit Defence plan whereby security posts were established along the border in Chitral to foil the designs of Kabul regarding Chitral state. Kabul is exploiting the ignorance of Pakistani authorities about the Durand Line. It is need of the hour that Pakistani high ups should get maximum knowledge about the issue from academic perspective. It is also in the interest of Afghanistan to desist from making hostile propaganda against Pakistan. It should expel the Swati Taliban headed by Maulvi Fazullah from Kunar and Nuristan province.

They are regularly attacking Pakistani villages and security posts along the Pak-Afghan border in Chitral, Bajour and Dir. About twenty such raids have taken place from across the border during the current year. Improvement in Pak-Afghan ties is need of the hour. The two neighbours need each other. They will further suffer if they did not resolve their differences. But their mutual cooperation will usher a new era of development and prosperity in the region. They should revive the historic Silk route connecting South Asia with Central Asia through Wakhan Corridor. This will result in more trade, investments and creation of more job opportunities.

Their future will remain secured if they left behind the legacy of British colonial era and cooperate with each in all walks of life. People of the two countries have already suffered too much due to the ongoing waves of terror. You can easily change your friends but not neighbours. A good neighbour is a blessing. A Greek poet, Hesiod once remarked that a bad neighbour is as great a calamity as a good one is a great advantage. Instead of enmity, Kabul and Islamabad should cooperate with each other to overcome their problems.-Pakistan Observer

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