One among the various regional Pashtun populations, the Afghans

One of the world’s longest border
lines is Durand Line (2,430 km)
international border among Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It was acknowledged in 1896 between Sir Mortimer
Durand and Abdul Rahman
Khan to solve the limit of their individual spheres of influence and
improve diplomatic relations and trade.

2. Background of Durand line

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In 1893 Sir Mortimer
Durand, the foreign secretary of the British colonial government of India,
persuaded Abdur Rahman, the amir of Afghanistan, to accept a line of
demarcation between Afghanistan and British India in return for a subsidy.  This line, which ultimately extended 1,519
miles see Map 1, had the immediate impact of removing from Afghan control a
number of small territories historically administered by its amirs. More
important, it arbitrarily divided the Pashtun inhabitants of the region between
British India and Afghanistan.  As an
ethnic group, the Pashtuns inhabited a wide range of territory from the
Peshawar Valley to Kabul in the east and from Qandahar and the Helmand Valley
to Quetta in the south.  Because Pashtuns
had been the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan since the mid-eighteenth
century, Afghan amirs often portrayed themselves as the historic leaders of all
Pashtuns even when they did not rule over them.

Indeed, the terms
‘Afghan’ and ‘Pashtun’ tended to be used interchangeably during the nineteenth
century.  Because of long-established
connections (political, economic, and cultural) among the various regional
Pashtun populations, the Afghans viewed their division by the Durand Line as
illegitimate.  This was despite the fact
that Afghanistan had failed to establish its own political authority over most of
the territory that now fell under British control. 

When Afghanistan became
fully independent in 1919, it accepted the line as its de facto border with
British India.  But Kabul revived its
earlier and more fundamental objections to the line’s legitimacy when Pakistan
came into existence in 1947. 
Afghanistan’s most radical objection was that the Pashtun regions should
not have had to choose between joining India or Pakistan, but should have been
offered the additional options of becoming an independent state or joining with
Afghanistan.  Afghan leaders also argued that
the various agreements between British India and Afghanistan, including the
Durand Line, lapsed when the British left South Asia and were not transferable
to the new state of Pakistan.  And even
if Pakistan were deemed a legal successor state, the Afghans argued, the Durand
Line remained illegitimate because they had been coerced by the British into accepting
the agreement.  Although they might have
agreed on nothing else, since that time successive Afghan regimes in Kabul
(monarchist, republican, communist, Islamist, and democratic) have all
maintained the policy of refusing to grant de jure recognition to the existing
border with Pakistan, souring relations with that country for the past sixty years.  But Pakistan too has been less than
forthcoming in dealing with the problems associated with a frontier population
in its own territory that it has never been brought under direct state control
and that refuses to accept the legitimacy of a border that divides local

The Durand Line is far
more apparent on printed maps than it is on the ground since local populations
have never paid much attention to it.  It
runs through a rugged and arid mountainous region inhabited by subsistence
farmers living in scattered villages. People cross the border at will and do
not treat it as a boundary.  This is
hardly surprising since it is poorly demarcated in most places, and not
demarcated at all in others.  Because
state authority has always been weak to non-existent in the area of the line,
no one ever policed the border. Both Afghanistan and British India instead used
indirect forms of rule that relied on maliks, or tribal elders, to settle
problems and to ensure security by means of armed local militias.  National military forces were confined to
small bases and rarely ventured into the region.  Pakistan retained the British policy after
independence when it struck a 1947 agreement with local tribal elders not to
base troops in the Khyber, Kurram, and South and North Waziristan
Agencies.  Pakistan’s military bases elsewhere
in the area consisted of isolated cantonments. 

For this reason, the
dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan over the status of the border was
largely theoretical and had little or no impact on the local population.  Both sides worried about the ability of the
other to stir up trouble in the region, but such crises tended to be episodic
rather than endemic.  When it came to
provincial administration, trade, and establishing formal border 


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