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The Durand Line Overshadowing US-Afghanistan Partnership


Amid the strained relations following the border clashes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Afghan president-Hamid Karzai- recently at a ceremony at Kabul University once again emphasized that the Afghan establishment doesn’t recognize the Durand line as the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan as it hasn’t in the past. At the mean time Pakistani officials have repeatedly maintained that the Durand Line issue is a settled and closed one for Islamabad. “Pakistan regards it as the recognized international border and as a position accepted by the international community.’’ Furthermore, the president on the occasion repeated his previous request that Afghanistan wants a U.S. commitment to boost its security, strengthen its armed forces and promise long-term economic development. Here the Afghan president looks inconsiderate, particularly his Persistence on Durand line issue seems to overshadow the U.S. commitment to boost Afghanistan’s security and strengthen its armed forces.

The Durand line: as a controversial border was established after an 1893 agreement between Mortimer Durand in British India and Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman Khan for fixing the limit of their respective spheres of influence. The Durand Line cuts through the Pashtun tribal areas, politically dividing ethnic Pashtuns and Baloch who live on both sides of the border. A joint British-Afghan demarcation survey took place starting from 1894, covering some 800 miles of the border. The resulting line later established the “Great Game” buffer zone between British and Russian interests in the region. It demarcates Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of western Pakistan from the eastern and southern provinces of Afghanistan. From a geopolitical and geostrategic perspective, it has been described as one of the most dangerous borders in the world.

There lies a demand behind the Durand line issue for pashtunistan- a Pashtun ethnic state- by the Pashtun nationalists mostly in Afghanistan. The Durand line for long has been a big challenge for the demand of the ethnic state. Afghanistan and Pakistan have much in common. Both the countries have inherited common historical, cultural and religious traditions. They both necessitate mutual trust for trade matters. Despite all the commons, the relations between the neighboring countries have been marked by hastily. The primary cause of the hostility is the demand for Pashtunistan which was put forward by the Afghan officials immediately after the emergence of Pakistan. Since then the Afghan officials have not recognized the Durand line and Afghanistan has suffered much due to Durand related disputes.

In Pakistan the feasibility of a Pashtun state is consistently destroyed. Perceiving the Pashtuns as a formidable ethnic group that may draw down the power in Pakistan, the Pakistani Punjabi-led establishment has played a soft role in keeping them fragmented. Pashtuns in Pakistan are widely separated in dissident groups, as the Islamists and the nationalists. The nationalist Pashtuns have consistently been marginalized in Pakistan and the Islamist Pashtun parties have been given the opportunity for activities in order to cut through Pashtuns. Many Pashtuns are integrated in Pakistan. For them the sense of being a citizen of the country is stronger than their ethnic affiliation. Based on merit and loyalty to the system, they have enjoyed prestigious positions in Pakistan. “Pashtu” as the language of Pashtuns is under pressure from English, Urdu and Punjabi languages. In education Pashtu gains no reward in Pakistan.

Tradition and religion are strategic tools of control in Pakistan with less expensive and more gains. Through traditional values and religious teachings, the Pakistani establishment manipulates things, among the Pakistani Pashtuns and Pashtuns of Afghanistan. The Pakistani military and the intelligence agencies largely use the Islamist Pashtuns of Pakistan as a tool against the ethno-nationalist parties in the Pashtun residential areas. Two major Pashtun Islamist parties, Jamaat-e- Islami Pakistan, JamiatUlema-e-Pakistan, and Taliban along with other tools have been used to manipulate politics among the Pashtuns in Pakistan and to implement the Pakistani agenda in Afghanistan. These are the means Pakistan has utilized to keep the Pashtun ethnic group fragmented. So perceiving the above circumstances, the demand for pashtunistan seems gain no opportunity to succeed rather to deteriorate the situations in the region.

From the strategic and geopolitical perspective, Pakistan has long contained the capability of a more advantageous role for the United States in the region. Therefore, regarding the Durand related issues, The United States has never involved itself in matters heighten Pakistan’s concern of the Durand line issue. And presently Pakistan’s importance at least is not less than Afghanistan in the west. A short reference to the history proves it.

In 1949, Mohammad Davoud as Afghanistan’s defense minister requested the United States defense assistances to equip Afghanistan’s security forces. He accounted Afghanistan’s military requirements very little in comparison with Iran, Turkey and Europe. Even he notified Afghanistan’s readiness to pay for the military equipments. Despite this the United States declined an Afghanistan’s request for defense cooperation. In 1954, John foster dolls- the former US secretary of the state- in a memo, related the matter to the demand for pashtunistan. Furthermore he added Afghanistan should first solve the conflicting issue of Pashtunistan rather than requesting for weapons. In 1955, Mohammad Davoud as the Afghan president welcomed the cooperation offer by the Soviet Union. In the wake of it, because of Pashtunistan issue the relations between the neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan entered a phase of deterioration. It continued at the level of a complete interruption of relations between the neighboring countries. It proved the idea in the west that a militarily equipped Afghanistan may attack Pakistan and destabilizes the region.

During the last years, the United States once again took into account Pakistan’s concern of Durand issue rather than Afghanistan’s. Last year, The United States’   Special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman said Washington recognized the Durand line as the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham last year on October 23 clarified. “The United States, as many other countries, has long recognized the Durand line as the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan.” soon after, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry rejected the position taken by Mr. Grossman. Following Kabul’s assertion, the US State Department reiterated Mr. Grossman statement; added that the US policy on the Durand line as a boundary has not changed.

The Durand line issue since the establishment of Pakistan has been the core conflicting matter between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has caused heavy expenditures to the neighboring countries in particular Afghanistan. No doubt, it is a regional issue but it has since long overshadowed Afghanistan’s international relations and its foreign policy. A very prime example in the matter is the rejection of Afghanistan’s request for defense cooperation from the United States’ due to the Durand line issue. Perceiving the sensitivity of the Durand line issue, talking about it surely has negative consequences for relations between Afghanistan and the United States. With no doubt, the president’s reiteration on Durand line overshadows the partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan particularly the ongoing discussions for security deal between the US and Afghanistan.


Mohammad Yasin Sultani is a permanent writer of the Daily Afghanistan Express. He can be contacted through

Comments (1)

  • Sami Ajmal

    The claim of Durand Line is not for a specific state of Pashtunistan. The land belongs to Afghanistan and it is our basic right to claim it back.


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