Durand line de facto border, says US

February 16, 2008

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WASHINGTON, Feb 15: The United States believes that both Afghanistan and Pakistan recognise the Durand line as their de facto border but has not tried to settle the dispute between its two key allies, says a senior US official.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher made these comments at a congressional hearing when asked to comment on a recent report which urged the US administration to help resolve the border dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The report by the Afghanistan Study Group, discussed at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, urges the United States to reduce antagonism between Pakistan and Afghanistan by persuading Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line as the official border. The report also advises Washington to persuade Islamabad to remove restrictions on transit trade between India and Afghanistan.

“Frankly, we haven’t taken on the issue of the Durand Line, a problem that goes back to 1893, to the colonial period,” Mr Boucher, the US State Department’s pointsman for South Asia, told the Senate panel.

“I think both sides do operate with that as the border; they shoot across it to protect it. They operate border posts on it, and our goal has been to try to reduce those tensions and get them to work in a cooperative manner across that line.”

Mr Boucher said the United States also keeps urging Pakistan to remove restrictions on Afghanistan’s transit trade with India.

“It is an issue that we have taken up, and we continue to take it up because, frankly, we think it’s in Pakistan’s overall economic interest to capture that transit trade and have it go through Pakistan, and not have it go through Iran,” he said.

“The Pakistani government keeps telling us it’s really a matter that’s determined by their bilateral relationship with India, and not even by their sort of broader global interests.”

Despite Pakistan’s reluctance, Mr Boucher said, the United States continues to push for the removal of these restrictions “because we think it would be not only helpful to us and our allies and others who operate in Pakistan, but it would be helpful to Pakistan itself”.

The Afghanistan Study Group has also recommended that America should open direct negotiations with Iran to seek its cooperation for defusing tensions in Afghanistan.

On the group’s recommendations for improving relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr Boucher said that due to US efforts the relations between the two countries have greatly improved since March when they were shooting at each other across the border.