Afghanistan’s Durand Line Dilemmas

Iqbal Khan

Durand Line presents an interesting study in border demarcation. It is one of the most controversial issues between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Issue is one of the factors of the continuation of insecurity in Afghanistan. Only Afghan government and a hawkish element of Afghan society thinks that it is not a recognized border. Afghan nationalists still see Peshawar, Afghanistan’s old winter capital, as having been stolen from them by the Sikhs in 1834. And in some of their privately published maps, Pakistani territories begins from borders of Punjab.

However, there is no shortage of saner voices in Afghanistan. Javed Kohistani, Chairman of the Afghanistan Freedom and Democracy Movement, has recently opined that: “This truth is certain that Durand is a well-known and accepted border, the Afghan rulers have only oppressed their own people for decades without respecting their sovereignty and neighboring”. Abdul Latif Pedram, a member of the House of Representatives and leader of the National Congress Party, said last year that Durand was an official border line, and “the Afghan government has [practically] recognized this line. Afghanistan prefers to call this international border as Durand Line after Sir Mortimer Durand who signed the Durand Line Agreement with Amir Abdur Rahman of Afghanistan on November 12, 1893.

Ever since, all Afghan governments recognized it as international border till August 13,1947, later all successive Afghan governments preferred to renege.

Durand Line Agreement is a single page small text comprising seven articles. It was an exchange of territories and border management agreement. “The British Government thus agrees to His Highness the Amir retaining Asmar and the valley above it, as far as Chanak. His Highness agrees, on the other hand, that he will at no time exercise interference in Swat, Bajaur, or Chitral, including the Arnawai or Bashgal valley. The British Government also agrees to leave to His Highness the Birmal tract…, who[Amir] relinquishes his claim to the rest of the Waziri country and Dawar. His Highness also relinquishes his claim to Chageh” (article 3). “The Government of India will at no time exercise interference in the territories lying beyond this line on the side of Afghanistan, and His Highness the Amir will at no time exercise interference in the territories lying beyond this line on the side of India” (article2).

Sensing the departure of the British empire and creation of Pakistan, Afghan foreign minister wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister, Jawahar Laal Nehru in 1946, acknowledging the validity of Durand Line Agreement with India, and quoting historic reasons for raising doubt about future validity and continuation of the Durand Line with the upcoming new state-Pakistan. Indian Prime Minister snubbed the Afghan government by stating that if one was to go by historic perspective then “once Hindu Kush range marked the Afghan border with India”.

Two historic factors, albeit distorted, that Afghan governments frequently like to refer to are: signing of Durand Line Agreement under Duress; and a 100 years’ time bar on this agreement. The contention that Amir signed Durand Line Agreement under coercion, is refuted by a huge piece of evidence to the contrary. And about 100 years’ time limit, no expert has been able to find any authentic reference to support the notion.

Amir Abdur Rehman was generally satisfied with the Agreement. While signing the Agreement, the Amir held a ‘durbar’ where his two elder sons, high-ranking civil and military officers, and four hundred leading chiefs were present. Writing about this occasion, Sir Mortimer states, ‘He (Amir) urged his people to be true friends to us and to make their children the same. After each period of his speech, there were shouts of ‘Approved! Approved” from amongst those present.

This account has been corroborated by the Amir “I gave an outline of all the understanding which had been agreed upon and the provisions which had been signed for the information of my nation and my people and all those who were present. I praised God for bringing about friendly relations which now existed between the two Governments and putting them on a closer footing than they had been before.”  Such accounts amply indicate that the document was not forced upon the Afghan side.

Another issue is about the “easement rights” granted to the tribes living close to the border and affected by some of the restrictions placed on their movement across the Pak-Afghan border. There is no specific mention of these “easement rights” in Durand Line Agreement, but traditionally the people divided by the Durand Line close to the border have enjoyed free movement across the Pak-Afghan by simply producing a ‘rahdari’ (permit) issued to them for identification purposes .These easement rights are limited to only Shinwari and Waziri tribes, these are quite limited in scope and extent, they can travel up to 20 kilometres in Pakistan for attending social functions, such as deaths, weddings, etc, of relatives . The problem starts when Afghans living as far as in Marzar-e- Sharif in the north and Karachi in the south claim right to free passage under easement rights.

Pakistan’s interest with regard to the border is firm-to maintain the status quo.  Afghanistan’s intentions are unclear and lack uniformity.  Afghanistan hardly controls any of its borders. It is mostly the other sides which feel compelled to manage it. And for the people who live along the Durand Line, it, has never constituted an international border.

They act as if it does not exist; they are pleased to see the border issue remain unresolved because it makes it easier for them to reject state authority of all types and benefit from illicit trade, and trafficking and peddling.

Writer is a freelance columnist; e-mail:

Posted in