June 18, 2011

Durand Line is the root of the AfPak conflict

Author Hadi Hairan
The killing of Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan compound was a major success for the US. It may make the commitment for the troop withdrawal easier, but will have no significant effect on the Afghan problem. I had written this piece during the very hours when the operation in Abbottabad was still going on. When I completed it, the news came that the Terrorist No. 1 was gone. A few days later I lost my previous blog so I could not put this online. The second development is that President Karzai is again in Pakistan and both countries have again ‘agreed on a joint commission.’ It is now clear that neither the government in Pakistan nor the one in Afghanistan is willing to fight against terrorism or work for improvement. Both are fraud and corrupt and both are rejected by the people. Furthermore, after using the 10 years’ war for their corruption and money earning, the officials and their networks are now extra busy earning money from selling the deceiving words of peace, reconciliation and reintegration.

These networks have been working under different groups, their main tactic is that they have found some former and ‘reconciled’ Taliban commanders and fighters, and have contacts in the foreign embassies and countries. And when they talk about peace and reconciliation, they create unrealistic and imaginary situations like telling that once the Taliban come for reconciliation, Afghanistan will become an overnight paradise. ‘They are not the Taliban that were 10 years ago. Now they are very moderate, very understanding, and now they respect human rights and democracy,’ these so-called peace-seekers tell their Western audience. But 10 minutes later they hear that a 12-year old suicide bomber has killed more than 20 innocent people and a woman is publicly stoned.

My point is that extremism is the main problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead of wasting time on reconciliations and peace-talks, which I believe are false and useless, both the countries should put their energies in combating extremism, promoting democracy and civil society, and awareness and education. At the same time the international community needs to work on the long time, trouble-making, problems such as the Durand Line. And following is what I had written about it.

Recently some Afghan and Pashtun intellectuals and nationalists gathered in London and revived their commitment to a cause that has played deep role in the decades long Afghan conundrum. The cause is to denounce the controversial Durand Line and campaign for a united Afghanistan. Messages of Mahmood Khan Achakzai and Afzal Khan Lala, two prominent Pashtun leaders, were read to the gathering. The gathering was arranged by Durand Jirga, a small group based in London. ‘Jirga’ is the traditional Afghan gathering of elders to resolve national and tribal issues.

This meeting took place just a week after Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani along with other high level military and civilian officials visited Kabul and reportedly told President Karzai that he ‘should forget about allowing a long term U.S. presence in his country’ and that ‘the Americans had failed them both.’

It is clear that Pakistan is more concerned about a stable Afghanistan than the long term U.S. presence. Pakistan’s support to Taliban and other insurgent groups is no longer a secret. The U.S. authorities, according to latest Wikileaks leaks, even listed the country’s spy agency as a terrorist group. However, little is said about the motivation for Pakistan’s support to Taliban and other insurgent groups as well as former Mujahedeen who first fought against the Soviet invasion and after the Soviet withdrawal got engaged in a civil war that further destabilized Afghanistan and paved the way for international terrorist networks to gain strength and get organized in the scattered kingdoms of jihadi warlords.

From the support to former Mujahedeen to supporting the current Taliban all Pakistan wanted was to destabilize Afghanistan. Remember that Pakistan had started supporting Mujahedeen before the Soviet invasion in order to counter President Daud’s claim for Pashtunistan. And the Pashtunistan idea was based on the Durand Line which is, in the view of nearly all Afghans, an illegitimate and unacceptable border that has divided the Pashtuns in four different administrations: Afghanistan, Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province now called Khyber Pashtunkhwa, Baluchistan, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Even Afghan warlords who were completely in the midst of a chaotic anarchy and entirely dependent on other countries’ support refused to accept Durand Line as a legitimate border or further divide Afghanistan. According to Ahmad Rashid: In 1988-1989, the KGB tried hard to convince General Abdul Rashid Dustam to create a buffer state. He refused. In the 1980s, and again in the 1990s, Iran tried to persuade its Shia and Hazara protégée to create a Shia corridor linking western and central Afghanistan with Iran. They refused. In the mid-1990s some of Tajikistan’s leaders tried, and failed, to persuade Ahmad Shah Massoud to build a Greater Tajikistan. In 1996, Pakistan’s ISI suggested the Taliban create their own state in the south. They refused.

Similarly, from Zahir Shah to Hamid Karzai, none of the Afghan leaders has ever accepted the Durand Line. And any such attempt is most likely to face strong resistance from all sides, including the Taliban. The American Institute of Afghanistan introduced a lengthy report after its conference on Durand Line in July 2007 titled: The Durand Line: History, Consequences, and Future. ‘No Afghan government ever accepted the Durand Line as an international border. This refusal has continued for more than a century under regimes of all political stripes, some of which called for the reincorporation of the territory into Afghanistan or the creation of a new state of Pashtunistan,’ wrote the report.

On the Pakistani side, at least three Pashtun nationalist political parties, including Awami National Party led by Asfand Yar Wali Khan, grandson of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Bacha Khan who was a staunch supporter of Pashtunistan, have publicly rejected the Durand Line as a border. Awami National Party now rules the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party has a strong following in Baluchistan and some areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Followers of this party never identify themselves as Pakistanis, rather they introduce themselves as Afghans and their homeland as part of Afghanistan.

Fayeq Khan, one speaker of the gathering in London, who is affiliated with this party, called the Durand Line a ‘Black Line,’ and told the audience that ‘unless Kabul and Kandahar are honoured, you will never be honoured, O Peshawaris,’ referring to the people of Peshawar, center of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

‘Our Afghan land has everything, but our enemy is determined to destroy it. Our children are being killed in Mohmand Agency, our elders are being assassinated in Helmand province, our people are being massacred everywhere in our Afghan land,’ he added. His entire speech was in Pashto, but when he came to the point to talk about Pakistan, he switched to English and bluntly said: ‘Pakistan has occupied 124000 square miles of our land. And by Pakistan we mean Punjab.’

The third, a small but relatively popular, party is Afzal Khan Lala’s Da Pakhtun/Afghan Qawmi Wahdat (The Pashtun/Afghan National Unification). Afzal Khan Lala is based in Swat Valley, a militancy affected Pashtun area, was once a federal minister in Pakistan, and has been campaigning for the reunification of Pashtuns with Afghanistan by removing the Durand Line. In several conferences on this issue, I have heard him saying that if the Germans could demolish the Berlin Wall, the Pashtuns and Afghans also can destroy the Durand Line.

Historically, the Durand Line was disputed from the very day it was established. The Durand Line agreement was entered into by the Afghan emir Abdul Rahman Khan and Foreign Secretary of the colonial government of the British India, Sir Mortimer Durand, in 1893. Majority of the Afghans and Pashtuns think the agreement was forced on the emir. Afghans and Pashtuns who think it was voluntary label him as a ‘puppet.’ In both cases they are not ready to accept it. When the British left the region, and Pakistan was created, the Durand Line remained in place and the area came under the control of Pakistan. The Afghan government and the Pashtun leader Bacha Khan refused to accept this. That was the beginning of the tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan and continues to be the cause of tension till this day.

The Durand Line is a sensitive issue both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan nobody is ready to speak in favour of it. In Pakistan, anyone who speaks against the Durand Line is labeled as traitor. Bacha Khan had spent a big part of his life in Pakistani prisons under this label.

But one thing is important to note. The Pakistani attitude to impose the Durand Line as a fact is mainly military. Pashtun nationalists who opposed and condemned this border were put in jails in the past. During the later decades, Pakistan has mainly used Islam and jihadists to destabilize Afghanistan and suppress the Durand Line issue. On the contrary, the hate for the Durand Line has become a part of the Afghan being, the Afghanism, and a big part of Pashto poetry revolves around this. Interestingly, the decades long war and chaos in Afghanistan has never discouraged the Pashtun nationalists in Pakistan to stop their campaign for reunification with Afghanistan. This poem, which has become folklore, was from a Pashtun poet on the Pakistani side: ‘The Khyber Pass is our travelling route; the Afghan is one in Kabul and Peshawar.’

So to understand the current conflict in the AfPak region, it is necessary to understand the root cause which is the Durand Line. The Pakistani establishment has this obsession that a stable and strong Afghanistan will enable it to raise the issue of the Durand Line or Pashtunistan again. They don’t want to see another Sardar Daud Khan and for this reason they are willing to support any group that can destabilize Afghanistan.

As is suggested to resolve the Kashmir issue for peace between India and Pakistan, it is equally important to resolve the Durand Line issue for peace between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unless this issue is resolved, Pakistan will continue to destabilize Afghanistan by any means no matter whoever rules the country. A withdrawal of the international community from Afghanistan without resolving this problem can further intensify the conflict and strengthen extremism in the region. However, if a solution is worked out, it can significantly increase the chances of a final solution of the ongoing war.


Charles Frith said...

Blew it on your opening sentence. Only children believe fairy stories about OBL being killed.

syed Naseer said...

the previous comment defines your prowess as a blogger or writer wharever you trying to be: but I have something to make way out of this alley... its not your beat.. Please read this and then save some respect by not venturing what you cant fathom... #

His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom has seen with regret the disagreements between the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan about the status of the territories on the North West Frontier. It is His Majesty's Government's view that Pakistan is in international law the inheritor of the rights and duties of the old Government of India and of his Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in these territories and that the Durand Line is the international frontier.[31]
—Philip Noel-Baker, June 30, 1950
At the 1956 SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) Ministerial Council Meeting held at Karachi, capital of Pakistan at the time, it was stated:
The members of the Council declared that their governments recognized that the sovereignty of Pakistan extends up to the Durand Line, the international boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it was consequently affirmed that the Treaty area referred to in Articles IV and VIII of the Treaty includes the area up to that Line.[32]
—SEATO, March 8, 1956
Pakistan withdrew from SEATO on November 7, 1973, and the organization was finally dissolved in June 1977.