Durand and McMahon Lines

05 Mar 2018


INDIA occasionally whips up issues like the Durand Line and the McMahon Line or asks its proxies to do so. Instead what it needs to do is focus on the overarching issue: Kashmir.

The British and later the Americans didn’t care a fig about Afghanistan’s Pakhtunistan stunt. Both lines date back to the nineteenth century. The British imposed the 2,640 km borderline on the Amir of Afghanistan in 1893 in a bid to strengthen their control over the northern parts of India.

The agreement was signed between Sir Mortimer Durand, the Indian Foreign Secretary at the time, and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in Kabul. The line is thus known as the Durand line, and runs through Pashtun territory.

According to the Durand line agreement, Afghanistan relinquished a few districts, including Swat, Chitral and Chageh, although it gained other areas, Nuristan and Asmar, for instance, which it had historically not controlled.

The agreement --at least on paper-- for the first time demarcated where the Indo-Afghan border started and ended. Before the Durand Line agreement, both British India and Afghanistan used to make incursions into each other’s domain of influence. The agreement stopped incursions and border tensions.

In the post-partition period, tensions re-emerged when Afghanistan obstructed census work in Chaman and Quetta, or when the Pakistan army attempted to fence the border. An immutable fact is that Afghanistan did recognise the Durand Line as an international border. Abdur Rahman Khan’s successor, Amir Habibullah Khan, in 1905 signed a new agreement with Britain confirming the legality of the Durand Line.

More importantly, Article 5 of the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919, on the basis of which Afghanistan reclaimed its independence, says that Afghanistan accepted all previously agreed border arrangements with British India. Unlike the previous two agreements, the Anglo-Afghan Treaty was not imposed by Britain. Afghanistan as an independent state agreed to recognise the Durand Line as an international border.

Another artificial casus belli is the McMahon Line. China’s position regarding the McMahon Line is tenable under international law. As for India, it maintains a variable position. The Indians say one thing in Beijing one day and quite the opposite the next day in Delhi.

Afghanistan is in a state of flux. Pakistan, India and China are nuclear armed. It is in the interest of neighbours not to revive dormant issues.

Amjed Jaaved

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2018