Date: 12/27/2005


Disputed Durand Line//// Pakistan’s fencing plan disturbs Afghans//// by Gurinder Randhawa //// The British during their long rule over the subcontinent drew three lines on the map — the McMahon Line between India and China, the Radcliff Line between India and Pakistan and the Durand Line between India and Afghanistan. All three became sources of dispute and bloody wars among the successive governments. //// The over 100-year-old Durand Line — drawn on the maps and never delineated on the ground, having large ambiguous areas, rendering it a loose “frontier” between Pakistan and Afghanistan — is again a hot issue in Afghanistan. This follows a proposal mooted by President Gen Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, with tacit US support, to fence the Durand Line “frontier”. Pakistan is also trying to use the Tripartite Commission consisting of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, which is meeting every alternate month, to sort out mutual issues along the frontier. A heated debate is on among the various political leaders and ethnic groups threatening to further deepen the divide in the already fractured Afghan nation. //// The Afghans see this as a very clever Pakistani move to convert the controversial line into a permanent international border under the pretext of stopping cross-border terrorism by enlisting the support of the US. Afghanistan has never accepted the Durand Line as a settled border. It always considered it as “imposed” on them by the powerful British, and never reconciled to the division of the Pushtun population between two countries. ///// The Afghanistan President, Mr Hamid Karzai, has already rejected the idea as “impracticable and unimplementable as families live on both sides of the line and any artificial barriers like fencing would permanently divide them.” The Afghan Interior Ministry, responsible for controlling cross-border terrorism, has said that “the border between the two countries has to be properly decided and delineated first as per international norms before considering any fencing proposal.” //// The border dispute has its origin in the period of uncertainty in this region following the decline of the Moghul empire after Aurangzeb when the Moghul authority was reduced to Delhi, and the provinces were usurped by the regional satraps. Entire Afghanistan had been one of the most important provinces of the Moghuls. They considered it as the crown of their empire. The empire founder, Babur, was so infatuated with Kabul that he wished his body to be buried in Kabul. //// The third Anglo-Afghan war of 1919 saw the cancellation of all treaties, including the Durand Line and the Rawalpindi Treaty of August 8, 1919, acknowledging complete independence of Afghanistan. On November 22, 1921, a new treaty between the two “sovereign” governments was signed and later ratified on February 6, 1922, in Kabul. There is no reference to the Durand Line in this treaty and the successive Afghan governments never recognised the Line. //// Pakistanis claim that though the Durand Line is not mentioned in the 1921 treaty, Article 5 infers that Indo-Afghan frontier is accepted by Afghanistan as it existed between the successive Kabul rulers and the British. Afghanistan maintains that the Durand Line Agreement and its successive ratification was personal to every King and never dynastic and cannot be considered as automatically extended. //// The Afghan government further made it clear on the eve of the British withdrawal from India that all treaties signed with the British were no longer binding on them as one of the signatories would seize to exist. They demanded that the territories previously part of Afghanistan and populated by people of the Afghan origin should be allowed to rejoin Afghanistan or become independent states of their own. //// The British did not agree and held a referendum in the NWFP, but limited the choice between India and Pakistan. Annoyed at this, the referendum was boycotted by the Congress and its Pushtun allies led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Sarhadi Gandhi. They advocated an independent Pakhtoonistan. //// Afghanistan’s legislative Shura nullified all treaties with British India on July 26, 1949. The Loya Jirga (Afghan Grand Assembly) also endorsed it. This was followed by acrimonious ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Abdul Ghaffar Khan continued his struggle till his death and did not go to Pakistan. He lived and died in Jalalabad in Afghanistan, where he is buried. //// The tensions between the two countries heightened after General Mohammad Daud deposed King Zahir Shah and the two neighbours came very close to armed conflict during Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s rule in Pakistan. The events of the last 30 years in Afghanistan after Daud — Russian intervention, Mujahideen résistance with the US and Pakistan assistance and the civil war — gave an opportunity to Pakistan to extend its rule into Afghanistan through the surrogate Taliban, created and nurtured by the ISI. They considered an Afghanistan under their influence as ideal for their strategic depth considering their confrontations with India. //// The overthrow of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after 9/11, followed by successful presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan under the new constitution, totally unsettled the Pakistan scheme of things. The Pakistani establishment and its agencies like the ISI have still not reconciled to Afghanistan slipping out of their grip and they feel that a peaceful, stable and strong Afghanistan will again assert rightful ownership over the NWFP by dumping the “unjust and now defunct” Durand Line. //// Playing up the Taliban activities, Pakistan has now come up with a move to fence the Durand Line to secure it as a permanent border with Afghanistan. The fencing move, however, has serious implications within Afghanistan. The Durand Line divides the Pushtun population in the middle. The tribes inhabiting both sides never recognised the imaginary dividing line. //// The internal Afghanistan angle to the issue is very significant as the Pushtuns in present Afghanistan constitute the dominant ethnic entity accounting for about 29 per cent of the total population. They had been ruling the country for centuries now. The present Karzai government, having predominantly Pushtun representation, cannot think of accepting a permanent division of the Pushtuns into two. //// Ironically, the ethnic minorities of the Northern Areas like the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, who are the worst enemies of Pakistan, having suffered at its hands, are the best supporters of the Durand Line as the permanent border since the inclusion of the NWFP in Afghanistan would further cement the domination of the Pushtuns by pushing up their majority to near absolute. They oppose vehemently any proposal to disturb the status quo. The fencing proposal and Durand Line acceptance is likely to be a hot issue in the coming days. //// The writer was a Prasar Bharati correspondent based in Kabul.//// http://www.tribuneindia.com/2005/20051226/edit.htm#4 //// ..........................000000000