THE Durand Line is an established international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, based on the agreement, which had been signed between Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, the then ruler of Afghanistan, and Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the then Foreign Secretary of the British India Government, on 12 November 1893. However, since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan, while some Afghan governments had accepted the Durand Line as the international border, others had expressed their reservations. But the ground realities indicate that the reservations expressed over the Durand Line as the border had no solid basis and it was merely to play politics on behest of some foreign powers hostile to Pakistan.
On the ground, the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan always considered the Durand Line as the border. The Afghan government’s objections to the Durand Line as an international boundary line were also never considered seriously by international community and the Durand Line was taken over as an international border by the UN member states, including all major powers, like the US, Russia, China, UK, France, Germany and Japan. Since Pakistan’s creation, official and private trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan across Durand Line always flourished.
In the post 9/11 strategic scenario involving Afghanistan, the new Afghan governments, the first one led by Hamid Karzai and the current one being headed by Abdul Ghani have also raised objections to the Durand Line. This is again being done as part of the regional geopolitics being played in Afghanistan at the behest of India and some other powers hostile to Pakistan and China to contain China’s rising economic influence in the region by disrupting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well as to impede Pakistan’s CPEC supported economic development.
To play geopolitics to their advantage, it is in the interest of India and other hostile powers to keep Afghanistan destabilized and put Afghanistan-Pakistan relations under strain by embroiling them in the interstate disputes by ill advising Afghanistan not to recognize the Durand Line as the international border and should not cooperate with Pakistan in fencing that border. So, obviously these powers do not want improvement in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.
Taking advantage of instability in Afghanistan and the porous nature of the border, India and other powers are using Afghan soil to destabilize Balochistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as they want to keep Pakistan economically weak by discouraging CPEC related foreign direct investment (FDI). That is why they are supporting the Baloch insurgents by hosting their leadership and providing them training, weapons and resources to carry out terrorism in Balochistan. And, to get economic aid from India and other powers, Afghan government seems constrained in asking them not to use Afghan soil for destabilizing Pakistan.
In view of the above, it is in their own mutual benefit if Afghanistan and Pakistan reject the negative geopolitics being played in Afghanistan and jointly work for making an early peace in Afghanistan and concentrate on their CPEC related trade and investment based economic growth. This cooperation will be only possible if both the countries realize that they are equally important for each other. While Pakistan is important for Afghanistan to facilitate its trade with China, South Asia, South East Asia, Middle East and North Africa through CPEC and Karachi and Gawadar ports, Afghanistan is important for connecting Pakistan with Central Asia for enhancing its trade oriented development.
Thus, by rejecting negative geopolitical influences, both the countries would be able to work together for peace in Afghanistan and exploit CPEC related economic advantages to achieve high economic growth and development objectives. It should also be realized that durable peace in Afghanistan would only come through Afghan lead and Afghan owned peace process involving all ethnic groups in Afghanistan, duly supported by Pakistan.
And, the job of peace building would become easier if the Afghan government would accept the Durand Line as international border and cooperate with Pakistan in fencing this porous border so that terrorism can be effectively defeated in a short time frame. In this context, it would be better if Afghanistan also limits the influence of those powers that are against the development of the CPEC. In this respect, both Pakistan and Afghanistan should work in coordination with China and other nations that have joined the CPEC.
To adopt and implement the above suggested strategy for peace and economic development, the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan should take a big initiative to convince their polity and the people on the political and economic advantages of this strategy. In the meantime, both the countries should be able to enter into direct talks to reach at a grand understanding and agreement to adopt and start implementing above suggested strategy by displaying utmost mutual cooperation.
—The writer, retired Lt Col, is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.