The current 2640 kilometres long controversial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, also known as the Durand Line, has been a major issue that has often impeded the development of cordial relations between the two neighbours that, otherwise, share a lot in common in terms of language, culture and religion.
This is because the Afghan government blatantly rejects the legitimacy and the legality of the Durand Line as a ‘de jure’ international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and has irredentist claims over nearly 60% of Pakistan’s total territory, ranging from the Afghan-Pakistan border up to the Indus River. Pakistan and Afghanistan have the potential to gain enormously from mutual cooperation. However, the persistence of the Durand Line issue has not only hindered friendly bilateral relations and exacerbated the bitterness and mistrust between the two states in particular but has also been detrimental to the peace and stability of the region at large.
This contentious bilateral issue is rooted in the 19th century when the British, in an effort to increase control over the northern parts of its Indian colony, concluded a treaty, known as the Durand Line Agreement, with Amir Abdur Rehman of Afghanistan in 1893. Under this agreement, a demarcation line was proposed which would run through the Pashtun territories and separate the respective Afghan and British spheres of influence.
Later, this understanding was reinforced under Amir Habibullah in 1905 through another agreement with the British and it was further stressed in Article 5 of the “Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919” which explicitly shows that Afghanistan accepted all previously agreed border agreements with British India. However, the succession of Pakistan as an independent Muslim state from former British India in 1947 resulted in an outright rejection of the Durand Line by the Afghan government and, therefore, the relations between the two states took on a rough start.
A historical analysis of Pak-Afghan relations clearly indicates that the root cause of all the bilateral issues between the two states is the Afghan government’s rejection of the Durand Line as an international border. Afghanistan was the only country that objected to Pakistan’s membership in the United Nations. Again, in the 1950s, Daoud actively pursued the “Pashtoonistan policy”, reclaiming territories beyond the Durand Line and covertly supporting separatists in Pakistan’s Pashtun territories, which raised grave concerns in Pakistan’s military establishment who feared the dismemberment of their country. Moreover, Pakistan has been afraid of the possible collusion between India and Afghanistan that would seriously jeopardize the security of the country.
This is why Pakistan during the 1980s was keen on pursuing the “strategic-depth” policy in Afghanistan through which it would install a Pakistan-friendly government in Afghanistan that would subside the national security threat to the country. Pakistan tried to implement this policy first by supporting the mujahedeen groups headed by Hekmatyar and Sayyaf and, later, by supporting the Taliban in the 1990s. Such policies have greatly damaged and scarred the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Presently, the majority of the Afghan politicians and public, to a great degree, hold Pakistan responsible for their sufferings. All of these policies and counter-policies, pursued by Afghanistan and Pakistan alike, stem from the fundamental border dispute of the Durand Line. Such policy actions have not only damaged relations between the two countries but have amplified the instability and insecurity prevalent in the South Asian region.
The persistent protests of Afghanistan over the legitimacy of the Durand Line will neither change the status quo nor benefit either of the two countries. Afghan leaders and politicians are well aware of the fact that pursuing the Durand Line dispute will bear no fruit. The Kabul government does not have a valid legal case under the International Law to take the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). For the Afghan politicians, the Durand Line issue serves a mere rhetorical and political purpose which is simply used to arouse public sentiments and emotions to gain public support and to increase their vote bank. This is evident from the fact that the current border fencing on part of Pakistan has not prompted any strong resentment from the Afghan government.
In this age of globalization and greater economic connectivity, it’s time that the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan take a determined and sincere step towards the resolution of the Durand Line issue. Afghanistan’s acceptance of the Durand Line will pave the way for an unprecedented era of friendly and cooperative bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan which will benefit both the states. Pakistan will secure a gateway to the resource-rich Central Asia while Afghanistan will gain access to the sea via Pakistan and avail the opportunity of maritime trade. More importantly, such a peace initiative will alleviate some of the tension in the South Asian regional politics and pave the way for regional trade, connectivity, integration and cooperation.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.