Durand Line (DL) is an internationally recognized and universally accepted border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But Kabul refuses to recognize it as such. Letting the issue to linger on would only keep the region trapped in an unnecessary conflict for decades to come causing avoidable hardships to the people of the two countries. So, let us examine the issue to understand it in its holistic context to see if there is a mutually acceptable way out of the conflict.
While there is nothing high handed or dubious about the international legality of Durand Line, there is a justifiable reason for Afghanistan not to recognize it as a legitimate or even a natural border between two countries as the DL cuts across not only tribes but families as well, separating brother from brother, including dwellings with one half of a house on the Afghan side of the DL and other half on the Pakistan side. This stark fact renders the DL irrelevant in the eyes of Afghans.
The question is, is it possible then for Pakistan, in the spirit of peace and amity and long lasting regional peace, to also treat the DL as an irrelevant line physically separating the two countries without, of course, derecognizing it as an international border?
There is nothing wrong in exploring the possibility, though. Indeed the very unnatural character of the DL makes it an irrelevant border. But as luck would have it, it is the Pashtuns who live on the two sides of the DL and not two different sub-nationalities. And while the line divides tribes, families and dwellings it also serves as a natural meeting point for the two Muslim neighbors.
And this very fact—the fact that on the two sides of the DL live not only the same Pashtun sub-nationality but also the followers of the same Islamic religion accustoms to similar customs and cultural mores —makes it more than possible to turn the immediate region straddling the DLinto a vast free trade area (FTA) with the establishment in the two neighboring countries joining hands to protect and promote the economic well- being of the Pashto speaking population of Afghanistan and Pakistan in this FTA.
And this FTAin turn could serve at the same time as a bridge of friendship and permanent peace and lasting commerce not only between the two neighbors but also beyond the opposite borders of the two—one leading to Central Asia and the other to India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand and becoming a part of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative of which the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an important part.
But before undertaking the task of tackling the highly sensitive issue of Durand Line with a degree of equanimity and without being distracted by any conflict of interest element springing between the provincial government of Khyber Pukhtunkhaw (KP) and the federal government in Islamabad over the issue of merger of Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) with the KP, Pakistan needs to complete the process of merger within months if not days. Also, the two, the federal and the KP governments need to be on the same page while settling, once and for all, the sensitive border issue with Afghanistan.
The cabinet decision on the merger issue was decidedly ‘timely’, still it was late by 70 years. So in any case let us not add another pointless and uncalled-for five years to the process of merger of the FATA with the KP province. Let us do it now.
The federal government claims that it would take at least five years to restore durable peace in the to-be-merged region. And during this transition period Islamabad proposes to take as many as eight actions it believes are necessary to achieve the desired durable peace.
One quick look at the list of these eight actions makes it very clear that federal bureaucracy has as usual turned a political decision into a bureaucratic red-tape getting rid of which would take more than five years, perhaps even five decades.
The list of actions: 1)Rehabilitation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) 2) Reconstruction of infrastructure, houses and shops, 3) Launching of a major program for socio-economic development, 4) Establishment of elected local bodies, 5) Introduction of judicial reforms to extend the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high court, 6) Capacity building of law enforcement agencies, particularly Levies Force, to enable them to perform policing functions, 7) Carrying out land settlement and preparing GIS-based computerized land record and 8) Capacity building of the Frontier Constabulary for efficient border management.
The chances are that even before the first year of this five-year limit is out the federal bureaucracy would have set up eight new secretariats, each one employing scores of staff with ever expanding budgets and at the same time creating all kinds of vested interests—civil, military, social and political —which in turn would give rise to institutional rivalries leading to shunting the very process of merger into the oblivion.
Already the KP Chief Minister, Pervez Khattak has expressed similar fears and asked the federal government to merge and move on without any further loss of time. He has very rightly demanded the immediate dissolution of the FATA Secretariat and has asked that it be replaced by the old system working before 2006 under which FATA cells would be located in each department of KP’s Civil Secretariat.
Khattak claimed that this system has the capability to guarantee a smooth and effective merger of FATA with KP. He has also very rightly objected to the powers given to the governor of KP for the next five years, which include financial powers, administrative powers and powers to shuffle bureaucracy in Fata.
“The lawmakers from FATA who would be elected to the KP Assembly in 2018 general elections will have no powers. I wonder what the MPAs will do when they get elected,” Khattak said.
He has invited the federal government to sit with the KP government along with representatives from FATA in a meeting to resolve these issues. The chief minister also objected to the powers of the federal government to post and transfer bureaucrats to FATA directly from the Centre.
“They are saying that they are bringing FATA into the mainstream but by mainstreaming they want to keep FATA with the Centre rather than connecting it with KP,” he said. “We have objections to the Levies as two types of systems—the police and Levies—cannot run in a province.”
He demanded that all the existing laws of the KP be extended and implemented in FATA like the law the province has for education and health and that the systems that it has should be replicated rather than making new experiments.
Clearly, there is an urgent need for the federal and the KP governments to sit together along with FATA representatives to sort out all the anomalies that the KP CM has pointed out. Such a meeting will also test the sincerity of Islamabad with regard to its actual intentions because as of now it appears as if it wants to eat the cake and have it too.
Former President Asif Ali Zardari’s comment on the merger issue is also highly significant as answering a question the other day he said the decision has given sweeping powers to the KP governor with the provincial government having nothing to do with the merger process.
The two people—one belonging to KP and the other to FATA are not two different national and/or linguistic entities. Both are Pashtuns and even after having remained separated by Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR) for nearly 200 years their customs and cultural traditions have remained almost the same. In fact KP is only a few steps removed from being tribal even after having remained mainstreamed for 70 years. Indeed, large swathes of Pakistan itself are still immersed in tribal traditions. Therefore extension of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to FATA, overnight would not give rise to any unique problems.