Pakistan has finally instructed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan interim government to stop removing and damaging the Durand Line border fence. To avoid escalation, Pakistan was adopting “maximum restraint”. Attempts by ‘some’ local Taliban forces (including a local intelligence chief) to destroy the fence occurred on December 18th and subsequently. According to Kabul News, Enayatullah Khwarazmi, spokesman for the Afghan defence ministry, the border fencing divides families on both sides. However, the IEA’s UN representative, Mr Soahil Shaheen, dismissed the occurrences as isolated.
Before we jump to any conclusions, it is important to understand the meaning of the terms “border” and “fence.” It is said that the “barrier” separates families, constraining centuries-old “easement rights,” which allowed the population of some 17 tribes to freely cross from one side to the other under certain conditions. The fence has also had a negative impact on smugglers’ profits, as their business has suffered as a result of its construction. The majority of border locations had smuggling/trade routes that were owned or run by smugglers, and the toll was collected by them as such.
This is especially true among Afghans, who have repeatedly claimed that British India and later the Pakistani state had encroached upon their area in order to “enhance posture.” The fence is particularly unpopular with Afghans. In the aforementioned cases, local Taliban commanders had provoked Pakistani border forces on their own initiative, without the knowledge or approval of Kabul. The International Electrical Association (IEA) is concerned about the behaviour of their members. Its leadership recognises the significance of Pakistan-Afghan relations at this critical juncture, when Pakistan is the only ally and interlocutor for Afghanistan. There is also the possibility that such provocations are being carried out at the request of other players such as India, the ANSF underground cadre, NDS — the former Afghan Intelligence Agency — and many others who see an advantage in sowing discord between the two countries. Despite its involvement on a number of fronts, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has yet to find its foothold.
From the Afghan perspective, the fencing of the almost 2600-kilometer-long and rocky border, which is 90 percent complete, has been a source of contention. In its claim, Kabul asserts that British India unilaterally forced the border drawn by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand (1850-1924) in and after 1893 on Amir Abdurrahman, the government of Afghanistan alleges (ruled 1880-1901).
From Pakistan’s perspective, the fence is necessary to govern movement of people on both sides of the border, just as it would be on any other land border in the world, including the United States. The construction of a fence is necessary to prevent terrorist elements from moving uncontrolled on both sides of the border. The construction of fences remained a fundamental component of Pakistan’s response to the constant drumbeat of ‘do more’ from the United States and NATO. Furthermore, the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, which includes a fence, has significantly reduced smuggling.
In a statement released on December 31, a Pakistani official stated that “all parties have reached an understanding not to aggravate the issue” and that “the Afghan side has been requested to coordinate border alignment before fixing the barrier.” During a visit to the region, the acting Afghan defence minister, Mullah Yaqub, the son of Mullah Omar, instructed local Taliban commanders to avoid a repeat of the incident.
Historical precedents show that the ‘Durand Line’ was a “mutually agreed border” between two sovereign countries that was established following some “procrastination” on the part of Amir Abdurrehman, who described the work of the Durand Commission as “something that must take place, but at the proper time.” Durand journeyed to Afghanistan alone, and in October 1893, he was met at Landi Khana (near Landi Kotal) by none other than Ghulam Haidar Charkhi, the Afghan Army Commander-in-Chief. Durand’s journey to Afghanistan was a success. When the British delegation arrived in Kabul, they were greeted by a 21-gun salute and a band singing “God save the Queen.”
Because Amir was capturing regions from Russia and British India in the North-East and South-East, respectively, that had previously belonged to Afghanistan, both of these nations lobbied for the delineation of the country’s borders. Amir’s ‘procrastination’ was motivated by the desire to acquire more land before official agreements were reached.
Durand’s principal objective on the inside was to “acquaint the Amir” with the Russian menace by way of a weakened Afghanistan, which would then serve as a “gateway” to British India, the “crown-jewel.” The British government provided the Amir with a subsidy in the amount of Rs12 lakh. For their part, the Russians hoped to put pressure on the Amir to withdraw from lands (in Badakhshan) that bordered Czarist Russia by provoking British intervention.
The Amir, on the other hand, was concerned about losing territory to British India and wanted to “build a wall around his kingdom.” However, throughout the course of the discussions, he was forced to relinquish almost all of his territorial claims to the Commission, with the exception of Kafiristan, due to Afghanistan’s “misery” and strategic difficulty in terms of location and governance. Amir agreed because he intended to convert Kafirs for the purpose of gaining political power in his home country. In addition to receiving a subsidy, the Amir was required to hold on to Wakhan Corridor in exchange for Rs6 lakh in cash.
Without delving into specifics, the cunning British were able to execute a highly advantageous arrangement for British India, resulting in the establishment of a “Afghan buffer” that averted direct combat with a stronger Russia and the establishment of a “Afghan buffer.” However, the fact remains that the Amir signed the Agreement on his own initiative on November 12, 1893, and confirmed it the following day in front of a public Durbar attended by around 400 Afghan nobles and notables.
The physical demarcation of the Line, which had been drawn on a shaky map, began in February 1894 with three combined Afghan-British delegations travelling together. The demarcation of the Boundary was met with fierce opposition in Waziristan and elsewhere since neither side had a ‘geographer’ present during the discussions to assess the Boundary’s demographic and ethnolinguistic accuracy, much alone its ramifications. Although Afghanistan may have a strong desire to return to the 128-year-old status quo, this is not permissible under international law, as 50 countries recognised the Durand Line as an international border during the Afghan occupation (2001-2021).
It is critical for Pakistan to maintain sensitivity to the Afghan situation while also focusing on the greater geo-strategic benefit that the IEA’s rise to power provides to the country. Never let petty, emotional, and insignificant matters distract you from your larger goals. Local spoilers should be efficiently neutralised once they have been identified. If there is a difference of opinion over local demarcation, a combined Pak-Afghan Border Commission should resolve it amicably, ‘if at all possible’. There are others who would like to see the International Energy Agency (IEA) fail, promote instability, pull Pakistan into the system, and continue fishing in difficult seas. The International Energy Agency (IEA) must also exercise caution, assert itself, and restrain its unwary members.
Pakistan should maintain a friendly relationship with Afghanistan, despite the fact that the border barrier has ‘appears’ to have lost its meaning and function in an evolving and transformed geo-strategic context. The Tajik-dominated ANSF has been disbanded, and the Pashtun-dominated IEA has become a reality. The debate will continue.
Published in Newsskook.com, January 6th, 2022.