Ghost of Durand Line


Iqbal Khan

THIS is an era of the rise of right wing nationalist politics. Fencing and war building along international borders are seen as a ‘new normal’. Making unsubstantiated claims over neighbours’ territories is new facade of erratic diplomacy. Saner societal voices are the first casualty under the evolving environment of interstate tensions. And making hay while sun shines, Afghanistan is striving hard to reincarnate the ghost of Durand Line. Ordinary people of Afghanistan want good relations with Pakistan and do not consider international border demarcated by the Durand Line border any issue.
Afghan parliamentarian, Abdul Latif Petram, came out courageously to denounce the erratic moves by the Afghan government by stating that Durand Line was an internationally recognized border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has now indicated that Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies and some other parties are out for his blood. He is of the view that Indian intelligence was part of the plans with regard to ongoing campaign of making Pakistan-Afghanistan border controversial; as India wanted to serve its own interests in view of ongoing differences between the two countries.
The statement of Afghan MP is reflective of the realities within Afghanistan where India is spreading its appendages to executed despicable deeds against Pakistan. Pro-India elements within Afghan govt keep churning out contentious and unfounded proclamations. No matter, what such elements say, international community considers Durand Line as a settled and closed matter. Therefore, it is better for Afghan leaders to put this issue behind and take steps that bring ease and relief to war-torn people. Some of the objections from the Afghan side about the validity of the Durand Line are: agreement was forced upon the Afghan, it was signed only for a period of 100 years and then expired in 1994, and agreement was made with British Govt and not Pakistan, and hence, it can be regarded as invalid.
Pakistan has always upheld the norms of international law and has maintained position of a successor state to the rights and duties inherited from the British government in India. Pakistan, as a successor state to British India derived full sovereignty over areas and its people east of Durand Line and had all the rights and obligations of a successor state. And, no-where in the treaty, a mention of 100 years has been made. Porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is frequently used by human and drug traffickers as well as small wepon paddlers. Criminals and terrorists also take advantage of this inadequacy and cause havoc inside Pakistan and Afghanistan through cross border terrorism and organized crime. Pakistan cannot completely ignore the movement of saboteurs across the border, who cause violence in Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan has decided to fence the volatile border between the two countries. This fencing cannot be compared with the wall that President Trump intends to erect between Mexico and the USA.
The proponents of the fencing claim, that our enemies including India have found it convenient to send money and agents across the unregulated border, to create mischief in Pakistan. And with the fencing of the border, security and economic situation of Pakistan would improve due to reduction of smuggling, especially under the garb of Afghan transit trade. Pakistan cannot just sit back and watch all kinds of mischief being planned and executed from across the border. As Afghanistan also claims that Afghan Taliban have safe heavens in Pakistan and they cross the border at will to attack Afghanistan, it is in Afghanistan’s own interest as well to cooperate with Pakistan, in stricter control and management of the border. Afghanistan should welcome this as an effectively managed border equally takes care of the security issues faced by Afghanistan.
The legal rubric of ‘easement rights’ to the various Pakhtun and other tribes along its sides has come to be misunderstood as facilitative of cross border movement at will. It is also important to understand that the easement rights are only exercisable by members of the tribes divided by the Durand Line and are not available to other ordinary nationals of Afghanistan or Pakistan. Besides official border crossing points with Afghanistan at Torkham and Chaman there are scores of unofficial crossing points facilitating billions of Rupees smuggling as well as crossing of terrorists into Pakistani territory without any difficulty.
Pakistan can lawfully fence its side of the border without Afghanistan’s consent by following the precedence of the USA-Mexico border which has been unilaterally fenced by the USA under the Secure Fence Act 2006.This has been deemed lawful under international law since the USA, as a sovereign state, is entitled to do so for implementation of immigration policy. India has also fenced its side of the border with some of its neighbours. The initial plan of fencing was made in 2005. This plan was reconsidered in 2007 and then in 2009. But those plans were not implemented. The plans of fencing and mining the borders were opposed by Afghan Government, citing that the fencing would result in “the limitation of freedom of movement of Pashtun tribe’s people”. However, now the fencing is in progress. The border areas of Bajaur and Mahmand Agencies have the priority, as these agencies are considered as high threat zones. While both the countries have routinely been accusing each other of harbouring militant proxies to carry out cross-border attacks, Pakistan has been the major sufferer as the militants from Afghanistan keep crossing into Pakistani territory at regular intervals to launch ambushes on Pakistani security posts. Even Afghan National Army is involved in launching assaults on Pakistani border posts.
While visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Voluntarily Repatriation Centre near Peshawaron April 09, Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Omar Zakhilwal said “Not sealing, but removing border is the solution to issues”. He said, “Afghanistan is ready to help Pakistan resolve all issues through mutual consultations”.” All Afghan Media” has reported Zakhilwal as saying, “We are living in the 21st century and there is a need to remove walls rather than build fences…To eradicate terrorism, there is a need to change policies instead of erecting walls and fences.” Afghan ambassador is right with regard to necessity of continued dialogue, however, at the same time, Afghan government needs to desist the temptation of taking notation from India with regard to whipping up the dead horse of Durand Line.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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