HANDLING the burden of over millions of refugees, disputed border, absconding of militants from dubious borderline and to accusations of instability in each other’s affairs, Pak Afghan relations have never enjoyed a honeymoon period. There is a complicated history on border which is still a bone of contention between two states. Though Durand Line is accepted as a marked boundary by UN, Afghan Government on July 26, 1949 unilaterally declared that it considered the Durand Line as an imaginary line and that all previous Durand Line Agreements are therefore invalid. However, Pakistani governments have continuously maintained that the Durand Line is the legal border between the two countries due to international law principle of Uti possidetis juris.
It is also opposed by some Afghans that as the Durand Line Agreement spells out respective spheres of influence it was never intended to physically divide the border. However, as per Pakistan stance, Article IV and V of the initial Agreement and later agreements make it very clear that border was to be demarcated and Afghanistan regularly received subsidies, thereby accepting it as a de facto border. Afghan Pashtun elites argue that the line splits up their tribes and that 21st century border management would threaten their way of life. During Partition, Pashtuns were given a limited choice: to join either Pakistan or India. As a result, time and again, Pashtun leaders have cited the violation of the “right to self-determination” of Pashtuns on both sides to argue against the line’s legitimacy. Today Pashtuns are not only clustered around the Durand Line but they are possibly the largest tribal society in the world, with a population of more than 42 million people in several countries, comprised of an estimated 60 distinct tribes with approximately 400 sub-clans. Even the Pashtuns that live along the Durand Line are organized in many separate tribes and clans, and are not as closely knit as often stated.
Afghanistan being a land locked country depend on Pakistan for most of its livelihood needs. Thousands of people cross the Chaman and Torkham border points daily, which include legal immigrants, traders, personnel from NGOs and NATO assets. Besides, this hundreds of illegal crossings take place daily using both frequented and unfrequented routes. Apart from giving a place to refugees during Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and living in Pakistan for decades, these Afghan nationals are not willing to return to their homes. Well, Pakistan had to pay a huge price for being generous and offering its land to Afghan refugees during hard times. In return it was blessed with gifts of border skirmishes and Taliban insurgents.
During the last few year’s terrorist sanctuaries and cross border attacks have emerged as serious issue. The terrorists from TTP are hiding in and operating from their sanctuaries in Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan since 2010. Foreign fighters like Uzbeks, Chechens also use this less-than-well managed border for penetration in Pakistan and carry out terrorist activities. The presence of Indian Consulates along the border are contributing towards destabilising Pakistan by providing material and financial support to terrorists and sub nationalist groups.
Pakistan considers vigilance on border as an effective method to control infiltration of miscreants. When President Ghani took the charge of his office in Afghanistan, a ray of hope emerged between the two countries better relations. But with the passage of time, Afghan officials started accusing Pakistan for instability in Afghanistan and particularly named Haqqani network from Pakistan for acts of violence in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, Afghan intelligence agency NDS seems to be a troublemaker as whenever relations between two neighbours starts restoring a misfortune occurs.
On December 24, 2016, Latif Pedram, Chairman of National Congress Party of Afghanistan, NCPA, gave a statement about Durand line and quoted that, Durand Line, a line has ended like all other limits that we have. Any hour and fighting against this line does not exist and if you’re there, we had asked many times of government of Mr Karzai that if there is legal documents to reference that if any such dispute exists then it should be taken to the International Court of Justice along with valid legal supporting documents. If there is no supportive legal document it won’t be accepted as disputed border. If NCPA comes into power it would accept it as an international boundary.
The National Congress Party of Afghanistan which was formed in 2004 is considered as a liberal, secular and multi-ethnic political party in Afghanistan. Latif Pedram, leader of this party openly criticizes Hamid Karzai’s government and opponent of Taliban regimes. Unlike other political parties in Afghanistan, the National Congress of Afghanistan has remained firm and united in their objectives and approach. He advocates an independent, but decentralized Afghanistan, and believes that the country should be divided into autonomous regions under the control of regional capitals. The thoughts and beliefs of Mr Pedram about Durand line are worth noticeable and seems in favour of better Pak Afghan relations as Pakistan wants trouble free border and relations with Afghanistan though many concealed powers don’t want long lasting peace in region.
Pakistan has moved for fencing the border by seeing the sluggish response from Afghan officials in keeping a check on terrorists’ penetration in adjoining areas of border and later their attempts to carry out any heinous militant act. The only way forward for long term improved relations between two states lies in bringing restoration of dialogue process and the value of reaching a final agreement on Durand line to be recognized by Afghanistan as an international border. Pakistan look towards a stable Afghanistan in future for regional peace and this fencing of border can be a first step to stop infiltration of extremists causing instability on both sides.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think tank based in Islamabad.