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The Durand Line; its background and impacts on Pak-Afghan ties

Published Date: May 20, 2017


The monthly magazine of (EP Today) has published a piece written by the Vice President of European Parliament Ryszard Czarnecki under the title of “Time to revisit the Durand Line” last week. The magazine publishes the articles written by the members of European Parliament about the issues that they regard as important at the time and issues that they contemplate needs to be focused on.

Czarnecki states in his article that the West must now take a hard look at the issue of Durand Line and restore to Afghanistan its territory. “In order to put an end to terrorism, now is the time to correct the mistake in drawing the Durand Line and restore the natural and historical frontier between the two countries,” [1] he writes.

After the formation of the National Unity Government, it is the first time that the foreigners raise the issue of Durand Line. Inside the country, the issue of Durand Line was highly discussed after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani traveled to Pakistan and met the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff in “GHQ”, Rawalpindi which followed with the signature of an agreement between ISI and Afghan Intelligent services.

Czarnecki’s piece was highly welcomed in the Afghan media, and once again raised the issue of Durand Line. What is the importance of the Gandumak and Durand line? In this regard what are the arguments that Afghanistan and Pakistan make? Whether or not the settlement of the Durand issue at present is in the best interest of Afghanistan? Is the biggest problem in the Pak-Afghan relations is the issue of Durand Line? With the solution of the Durand issue, will Afghanistan’s problems be solved? These are the questions that are analyzed here.


Gandumak and Durand; treaties imposed on unrepresented nation

In the 19th century, the great game between Tsarist Russia and British India began in Afghanistan. At that time, both empires were pursuing the “forward” policy. Russia was occupying the Central Asian Muslim Emirates one after another. The British India, on the other hand, commenced to satisfy its colonial ambitions beginning from Bengal and, based on the “forward” policy, was advancing towards the northwest India and at the end of the 19th century reached Afghanistan’s frontiers.  At that time the “forward” policy of both colonial powers had scared each other. Therefore, during all the 19th century, Afghanistan was the battleground for the two powers’ rivalry, called the great game.

The British signed the Gandumak treaty with Amir Mohammad Yaqub Khan in 1879. Before and during Anglo-Afghan war, Amir Shir Ali Khan, the King of Afghanistan and Yaqub’s father, had imprisoned Yaqub. Most of the historical books say that while signing the treaty, Yaqub was abnormal and had signed the agreement during the military presence of the British and in the meanwhile, it has to be said that after the British had retreated from Afghanistan, they took Yaqub with themselves to India and was kept in house arrest. During the second Afghan-Anglo war, Amir Mohammad Yaqub Khan did not represent Afghans; the whole nation was engaged in independence war.

In addition, in 1893, the Durand Treaty was signed with Abdul Rahman Khan while he had gout illness and Russia had accepted Afghanistan as British’s sphere of influence. Furthermore, British had kept Sardar Mohammad Ayub Khan and 800 Ghaljai leaders in India, fearing that the British would urge them to rise against him, Abdul Rahman Khan agreed on Durand line.  

Why is not the Durand Line acceptable?

The Afghan side has some reasons that are not responded convincingly by others. Also, Pakistan and some other countries have some reasons, for which the Afghan side has not provided satisfying answers.

Some of these reasons are as:

First; the Afghan historian Hassan Kakar, who has deeply researched the issue in Delhi, London, and Kabul’s archives, has not found such Persian or English text which is signed by Amir Abdul Rahman Khan.

Second; based on the historical records, Amir Abdul Rahman Khan has edited a map of the Durand Line but has not signed it.

Third; between 1895 and 1897, Abdul Rahman Khan has repeatedly sent letters to British India in which he has expressed his disagreement about some of the places where the Durand Line crossed and has questioned it.

Fourth; if the Durand Treaty was signed in accordance with the conventional norms, why was it not approved by the British parliament or Afghan Parliament (at that time Loya Jirga)?

Fifth; if the Durand Treaty was a permanent agreement, why the British would take the approval of Afghan Kings separately?

Sixth; it was only an agreement between Amir Abdul Rahman Khan and the British to determine their sphere of influence, not to determine the border, because the British, at that time, was concerned about a Russian invasion and Amir Abdul Rahman Khan’s interference in the tribal areas.

Seventh; from the second Anglo-Afghan war until the independence war, based on the Gandomak treaty, Afghanistan was a protectorate state, and its foreign policy was controlled by British. Therefore, at that time, Afghanistan was not an international personality and, therefore, did not have the authority to sign such an accord.

Eight; at that time, Afghanistan had a weak government, which could not represent the whole Afghanistan. Therefore, even if such a treaty was found with Abdul Rahman Khan’s signature on it, it could not account for the will of the entire Afghanistan.

Ninth; after the withdrawal of British Empire from India, the Indian Subcontinent was divided into two parts; Pakistan and India. Hence, Pakistan is not a successor of the British India and, therefore, even if such a treaty was signed, it cannot convey any legal right to Pakistan.


Tenth; after the formation of Pakistan, the referendum, which was held in the northwest frontier province (current Pakhtunkhwa), was malformed. Therefore, first; from the people who had the right to vote, only 51% had voted and that was without refinery of the fabricated votes. Second, at that time, most of the Hindus in this region had migrated to India. Third, in the provincial elections between 1939 and 1945, the Congress and Khudaye Khedmatgar group under the leadership of Doctor Khan had won in the elections and Muslim League had lost the elections.


What is the main problem in the Afghan-Pak relations?

Is the settlement of the Durand line in the current situations in the best interest of Afghanistan? If one evaluates the Afghan foreign policy during the cold war, one will find out that during that time, Kabul always wanted to negotiate the Durand Line but Pakistan, on the contrary, did not want the negotiations over the issue and in the meanwhile wanted Kabul to recognize the Durand Line. Even such demands were followed in the post-cold war era during the Taliban regime.

Another reason why the Durand issue cannot be settled at present times is that on the one hand the Afghan government is weak and on the other hand the recognition of the Durand Line will not resolve the Afghan issue and the on-going crisis. Because:

First, currently, the Durand Line is under the control of Pakistani military. According to the new Pakistani border management policy, Pakistan will not allow anyone, without a visa to enter Pakistan’s soil. Most of the Pakistani army are settled in the tribal areas. Therefore, whether the Durand Line is accepted or not will make no difference for Pakistan (however, the recognition of Durand Line by Kabul will end their concerns in this regard.)

Second, the main issue for Pakistan in Afghanistan is to have a pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan, in other words, strategic depth. Thus, Pakistan would be able to control Kabul’s relations with India and compared to Kabul-Islamabad ties; the Kabul-Delhi ties would be deteriorated.

Therefore, even if Kabul recognized the Durand Line, who will guarantee that Pakistan will not interfere in Afghanistan?

Despite all the issues mentioned above, it does not mean that, based on the Durand problem, Afghanistan and Pakistan must maintain tenuous relations with each other. There are many countries in the world that have temporarily put aside the important conflicting issues between them and have extended warm relations with each other. For instance, China and India, both have active trade, and economic ties and the border issues have not primarily affected this aspect of their relationships.

The end


[1]  EP Today, “Time to Revisit the Durand Line”, May 18, 2017, see it online:

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