VARIOUS Afghan governments had in the past refused to recognize Durand Line as an official border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In response to the opening of the Torkham border, the Afghan Foreign Ministry’s statement said that “Kabul does not recognise Durand Line as an official border between the two countries”. Foreign Office spokesperson Dr. Muhammad Faisal while terming the recent statement of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs as irresponsible and unwarranted, said that Pakistan-Afghan border is an internationally recognized official border between the two countries in accordance with all relevant international laws and conventions. Dr Muhammad Faisal added, “Pakistan believes that 24/7 opening of the Torkham point along Pakistan-Afghanistan border is a significant step forward to facilitate the people and traders of both the sides. And such statements only serve to undermine the resolve for peace and cooperation between the two countries and should be avoided”.
Pakistan as well as international community and the UN consider Durand Line an established international border accepted by Abdul Rehman Khan, Amir of Afghanistan. The demarcation was done under British diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand’s watch following a treaty between him and the Afghan ruler Amir Abdul Rehman in 1893. Afghanistan had reaffirmed the Durand Line agreement by making additional treaties with the British in 1905, 1919, 1921 and 1930, but Kabul claimed that these were signed under duress. In particular, the 1919 treaty signed in Rawalpindi after the Third Anglo-Afghan War upheld the Durand Line agreement. 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. As the original Treaty was further ratified in subsequent pacts, it can’t be considered as a forced treaty.
Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, Durand Line remained a contentious issue between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and was the main reason for strained relations between the two countries. Afghanistan calls it the Durand Line after the British diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand under whose watch the demarcation was done following a treaty between him and the Afghan ruler Amir Abdur Rahman in 1893. Pakistan considers Durand Line as international boundary recognized and confirmed by Afghanistan governments on several occasions. In fact, Afghanistan was the only country in the world to oppose Pakistan’s membership in the United Nations in 1947 taking the plea that it did not recognise the Durand Line as a permanent border. From King Zahir Shah to President Najibullah Khan, all Afghan governments had supported Pakhtunistan Movement in Pakistan based on its claim that the ethnic Pashtuns ought to be given the right of self-determination.
Writers and analysts of Afghanistan and Pakistan supported stances of their governments, but people were not informed about the facts and realities and also what UN had to say about this issue. In July 1947, a month before the partition and independence of the subcontinent, Afghan government had informed the British government that the tribesmen in the tribal areas wanted to dissociate themselves from India. Afghan government had, of course, meant Pakistan; and then Governor of the NWFP, Sir George Cunningham, after touring the tribal areas and meeting the tribal chiefs declared that the people wanted to retain the same ties with the new state of Pakistan, as they had with the British India. After the establishment of Pakistan in August 1947, Kabul argued that Pakistan was not a successor state to Britain but a new state that was carved out of British India.
It is worth mentioning that in NWFP a referendum was held in July 1947 in which 289244 votes were cast in favor of the NWFP’s union with Pakistan and only 2,874 votes for union with India. Secondly, the world courts have universally upheld the binding bilateral agreements with or between colonial powers, and are passed down to successor independent states, as was the case with most of Africa. Anyhow, a unilateral declaration by one party is of no consequence and has no effect. In fact, it is argued that Afghanistan has refrained from taking this issue to the UN, the International Court of Justice or any other world forum because of the weakness of its legal case. 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.
Having that said, the fact remained that almost all Afghan borders were demarked in the second half of the 19the Century. Among them, the Durand Line was the only border in respect of which the king of Afghanistan was taken into confidence. The borders with Tsarist Russia and China were determined through dialogue between Britain and Russia. Similarly, the Afghan-Iran border was fixed through dialogue between Iran and Britain. Afghanistan never raised the border issue with other countries; therefore, it does not seem to be on high moral ground when it disputes the border with Pakistan. Those voicing against the Durand Line need to realize the new realities. The reality is that there are more Pashtuns living on this side of the Durand Line than in Afghanistan. The referendum of 1947 and the decision of Tribal Jirga of FATA are the strongest and undeniable facts to judge the affinity of Pashtuns.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.