Durand Line is just a means to deceive Afghans

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Last month, Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, while attending a public event, said that there was no official border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He further said that Afghanistan will never recognize the Durand Line as its official border with Pakistan. In the past too, senior Taliban leaders have raised questions on the validity of the Durand Line, such as – Defense Minister Maulvi Muhammad Yaqoob Mujahid had said last year that the Durand Line is just a ‘line’. Maulvi Yaqoob also said that Afghanistan will raise the issue with Islamabad when the Afghan people want. Since the Taliban came to power in Kabul, troops on both sides of the disputed border have fired at each other on several occasions, causing casualties on both sides. This border dispute is not a new thing; It came into existence soon after the creation of Pakistan. When Pakistan joined the United Nations in 1947, Afghanistan was the only member state to vote against its membership. The Afghans argued that Pakistan should not be recognized as long as the disputed border remained unresolved. It is safe to say that the Durand Line issue has been complicating the unpredictable nature of Afghan-Pakistan relations since the birth of Pakistan.

Let’s take a look at the origins of this controversial borderline. Growing Russian expansionism and influence in Central Asia during the nineteenth century raised concerns of British officials in India. This resulted in several political and diplomatic confrontations between the two empires, later known as “The Great Game”. The construction of the Trans-Caspian Railway, particularly the extension built in 1890 that reached the Afghan border at Goshgi, was another source of concern for the British Raj (Government of India), as it would prevent Russia from bringing large troops into Afghanistan. Could enable. Russia was also fearful of British commercial and military raids in Central Asia, while Britain was worried that Russia might annex India into its vast territory. As a result, an atmosphere of suspicion, distrust and permanent fear of war arose between the two empires. Keeping this issue in mind, the British launched a military campaign against Afghanistan which is famous as the Anglo-Afghan War. However, they failed to take direct control of Afghanistan. Therefore, he resolved the issue to some extent by turning the country into a buffer state. To carry out this plan, the British government provided Afghan Amir (King) Abdur Rahman Khan with military weapons and equipment to defend the Afghan northern areas from Russian influence.

But since this strategy was not secure or promising enough, as well as to control Afghan foreign policy, the British believed it was important to define Afghanistan’s external borders. But before any formal border agreements were reached, the British aimed to capture as much territory as possible to meet their economic, geopolitical and strategic needs. Afghanistan was stripped of most of its land and left with weak administrative control over what remained. Having grabbed substantial land, Sir Mortimer Durand, India’s Foreign Secretary, arrived in Kabul on 2 October 1893 to begin negotiations with the Amir of Afghanistan on the demarcation of Afghanistan’s border. Ultimately, negotiations resulted in the creation of the Durand Line which divided half of the Pashtun population closely bound by culture, history and blood. But the Durand Line never served as the actual border as Sir Durand himself said after the signing of the agreement: “The tribes on the Indian side will not be considered to be within British territory. They are under our influence only in the technical sense” This was further made clear when the Viceroy, Lord Elgin, writing in 1896, said: “The Durand Line was an agreement to define the respective spheres of influence of the British Government and the Emir. Its purpose was to maintain the status quo and gain the approval of the Amir.”

Each Afghan government has argued that the line is not a legitimate border, as it was intended only to be a Line of Control, which divided the territory into spheres of influence for security. Another claim from Kabul, which rejects the legitimacy of the border, is that the border agreement was signed under duress. However many historians provide evidence that the Emir was fully aware of the essence and consequences of the agreement. But it should also not be forgotten that Aamir was forced to sign it under the threat of economic sanctions. Furthermore, Abdur Rahman Khan wanted to avoid a war between Britain and Russia in his territory, which would inevitably have had disastrous consequences for Afghanistan. The country had little room for negotiation when facing pressure from Britain, the global superpower of that time.

Afghan officials have always asked their British counterparts for comprehensive talks to resolve this border dispute, but all requests have fallen on deaf ears. And as Britain prepared to leave India, Afghanistan again demanded a revision of the border. This demand of the Afghans was also rejected. Subsequently, Afghanistan declared that all previous Durand Line agreements, including the former Anglo-Afghan treaties that maintained it, were invalid. Furthermore, the Afghan Parliament issued a resolution in 1949 condemning the Durand Line as a fraudulently drawn international border. In short, it would be correct to say that no Afghan government or political party ever accepted the Durand Line as the international border with Pakistan. But when Afghanistan became a war-torn country in the late 1970s, the Afghans did not take this border dispute seriously because they were too busy fighting among themselves.

This was an ideal situation for Pakistan to expand its sphere of influence in Afghanistan and Islamabad even started calling Afghanistan its fifth province. Pakistan never wanted a dynamic and powerful Afghan state controlling its affairs. Because stable and secure Afghanistan will not allow Pakistan to interfere in its domestic issues and will not accept the current border line with Islamabad. Pakistan will have to accept that the Durand Line is not a settled issue and they cannot declare anything unilaterally. The Durand Line dispute is not just an international border dispute, but a dispute of identity, ethnicity and sovereignty for Afghans. Unless both the states reach a consensus on the above matters, this controversial and disputed border line will continue to create hostility on both sides.

-Manish Rai

(The author is a columnist on the Middle East and Af-Pak region and editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround.) [email protected] can be contacted at)

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