Durand Line: An Irking Factor In Pakistan- Afghanistan Relat...| MENAFN.COM

Monday, 08 August 2022 06:50 GMT

Durand Line: An Irking Factor In Pakistan- Afghanistan Relations


(MENAFN- Pajhwok Afghan News)

The Pashtun community is considered as one of the most significant ethnic minorities in Pakistan. According to the provisional results of Pakistan's 2017 national census, Pashtuns account for 15.4% of the entire Pakistani population. They are based mainly in the northern and western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, respectively. However, in Afghanistan, Pashtuns are the majority of the population and are concentrated mainly in the southern, eastern, and dispersed. The Durand Line (the border established under British colonial rule in 1893) divides the traditional Pashtun homelands in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The border was mainly porous until recently fenced and heavily guarded due to the tribal, linguistic, social, and economic ties.

The Reality of Durand Line

In the course of the 'Great Game' between the Russian Tsarist Empire and the British Colonial Empire in the 19th Century, to gain strategic leverage, the British thought to push back its boundaries in the Pamirs, making Afghanistan a buffer state between them and the expanding Tsarist forces. Hence, Post the Second Anglo-Afghan War, for administrative division in 1893, Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, A British diplomat, drew the Durand Line through Pashtunistan, demarking spheres of influence between Afghanistan and British India and leaving about half of the Pashtun territory under British rule.

Traditionally, Pashtunistan or the Pashtun homeland stretches from areas south of the Amu River in Afghanistan to west of the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan, mainly consisting of southwestern, eastern, and some northern and western districts of Afghanistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Balochistan.

However, Durand is currently a disputed boundary for several reasons.

  • Pashtuns on both sides believe that they have been indiscriminately divided and separated from their family and land on either side.
  • The Pashtuns leaders of Afghanistan's civilian government like Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani claimed that the Durand Accord was signed with the British Colonial administration, and it ceased to stand valid with the end of British rule; hence, Pakistan cannot lay any legal claims on it.
  • Champions of Pashtun Nationalism

    Though there is a movement for integration with Afghanistan (their historical homeland) by the Pashtun people in Pakistan, this movement is being crushed by force.

    Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement (PTM): PTM is a non-violent group that campaigns against human rights abuses by Pakistan's army against the Pashtuns. These human rights excesses against Pashtun civilians during its counterterrorism operations against the Pakistani Taliban included enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. However, instead of addressing PTM grievances, Pakistani authorities have sought to quash its leaders and accused them of being secessionists conspiring with the Indian and Afghan intelligence services to vilify the country's army, including through disinformation on social media.

    In the past, PTM has attracted thousands of protesters to its rallies. However, in a gathering of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) in July 2021, its leader Manzoor Ahamd Pashteen accused Pakistan of its support to the Taliban in Afghanistan and sought the Pakistani government to end its interference in Afghanistan's internal issues. Concurrently, Pashteen also publically challenged the Taliban to stop it's companionship with the Pakistani government, claiming that the country is not a friend but a spoiler in Afghanistan. Addressing thousands in Makin of Southern Waziristan, where the PTM gathering was held, Pashteen reiterated that,“soil of Pashtun people in Pakistan has always been utilized for heinous purposes to insecure Afghanistan” and added that“the very policy of warfare is intolerable for them” and professed that he would not allow Pakistan to use their soil against Afghanistan.

    Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Deobandi Pakistani Taliban) TTP : TTP is an association of Jihadi and sectarian groups to overthrow the Pakistani State. It also loosely supports the Afghan Taliban militarily inside Afghanistan against Afghan Forces. Its leader Noor Wali called for an independent state comprising Pakistan's tribal areas. They recently revived their operations in Afghanistan's eastern provinces of Paktika, Paktia, and Nangarhar, closer to the Pakistan border in South and North Waziristan. They have carried out a deadly countrywide terrorist campaign in Pakistan between 2007 and 2014. After that, the leaders of the Pakistani Taliban escaped and was followed by a major offensive launched against them by the Pakistani Army in 2014.

    One of the recent major attacks orchestrated by TTP was the July 2021 bomb attack that killed at least thirteen people, including nine Chinese nationals working on a hydropower project under the multi-billion dollar rubric of the Chinese investment through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Hence apart from targeting the Pakistani military, TTP is also eyeing Chinese investments in Pakistan.

    Afghan Taliban : A majority of this outfit comprises Pashtuns. They fought the elected Afghan government. But still, raise voices against the recent fencing of the Durand Line by the Pakistani state.

    Concerns for Pakistan

    Afghanistan for long has always refused to recognize the Durand Line as an international border. Pakistan views this refusal as clear evidence of Kabul's revisionist tendencies. Therefore, to gain better leverage in the internal politics of Afghanistan and have a government that would recognize the Durand Line, the Pakistani generals strategized their support for the Islamist Taliban, who are ethnically Pashtun but not ethnic nationalists.

    Further, the Pakistani military also sees the U.S. exit as an opportunity to suppress the resurgent Pashtun nationalism. Such nationalism is represented by both the popular non-violent PTM and the violent TTP. Hence, with Chinese pressure on Pakistan about the safety of their people and investments, the Pakistani state might continue their support to the Afghan Taliban, while the Pakistani military might expect the Afghan Taliban to rein in TTP in lieu of their support. However, there is little evidence to suggest that the Afghan Taliban is in any disposition to oblige. Faran Jeffery, an OSINT expert and deputy director of Islamic Theology of Counter-Terrorism (ICT), opines ,“The Taliban didn't act against TTP even when they were a lot dependent on Pakistan. Now Pakistan's leverage on them is in decline. I don't think the Taliban will act against TTP. If things get bad, they might ask TTP not to carry out ops from Afghan soil, but that's about it.”

    In a more likely turn of events, if the Afghan Taliban successfully stabilizes its control in Afghanistan, a civil war seeking self-determination for Pashunistan will be inevitable in the future. Hence, the Pakistani state may want to rework its foreign policy regarding extending support to the Taliban and its formal relations with Afghanistan in general.

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