IF there is a point on which all Afghans unite, it is on the Durand Line. The British-drawn frontier is more than a century old and has been accepted by the world community as an international border. But Afghans to this day have shied away from recognising this reality. On Oct 21, Marc Grossman said in a TV interview that the US considered the Durand Line an international frontier. A few days later, the Kabul government rejected the views of America’s special envoy, prompting the State Department to reiterate its position by upholding Mr Grossman’s declaration. On Thursday, the Foreign Office reaffirmed Islamabad’s position on the issue and said the international frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan was “a closed and settled issue”.
Irrespective of tribal, ethnic, political and ideological differences, the Afghans speak with one voice on the Durand Line and refuse to abandon a stance that has been rendered obsolete by the march of time. Since 1947, Afghanistan has seen governments that differed in internal makeup and foreign policy orientations. The overthrow of the monarchy by Daud Khan, Zahir Shah’s cousin, and the establishment of a republic made no difference to Kabul rulers’ stand on the border with Pakistan, and the four communist rulers who followed them — Nur Mohammad Taraki, Hafizullah Amin, Babrak Karmal and Mohammad Najibullah — shared the royalty’s view of the border drawn as far back as 1893. Because Kabul’s communist rulers received greater support than before from the Soviet Union, their stance on the Durand Line and the issue of Pakhtunistan was hawkish. True, their views were echoed by many Pakhtun nationalists here but the bigger challenge of militancy among Pakhtuns has now taken precedence. Understandably upsetting for Pakistan, the victorious Mujahideen showed no interest in having the issue resolved and accepting the line. Even the Taliban, perceived to have been created, funded, armed and trained by Pakistan, showed little gratitude towards their hosts and preferred to follow their royal and communist predecessors in rejecting the status of the Durand Line.
The Durand Line is a fact, and no day passes without Kabul acknowledging its de facto existence by talking about cross-border incursions. One can understand Kabul’s anti-colonial approach in the 19th and early part of the 20th century. But cataclysmic events have unleashed new forces, altered the area’s geopolitical picture and rendered old concepts incongruous. Manned checkpoints on both sides testify to Kabul’s de facto recognition of the line. President Hamid Karzai should realise that official recognition of the Durand Line would serve as a confidence-building measure, remove a source of friction and help in fighting a common enemy.