Accessibility links

Afghanistan: Border Dispute Takes Toll On Security

  • Amin Tarzi

(RFE/RL) January 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz paid a visit to Kabul on January 4 to discuss Islamabad's decision to fence and mine parts of their mutual border, among other issues. His host, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, restated his country's "very clear" opposition to such a move, saying it "will not prevent terrorist activities, but will divide peoples and tribes."


A Pakistani military spokesman more than three years ago announced that his country was installing border reinforcements at strategic points to prevent remnants of Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces from crossing into Afghanistan.


Told of Afghan media reports suggesting the fence would go ahead without so much as informing Kabul, the spokesman responded bluntly that "Pakistan does not need the permission from any other country to take security measures on [its] border specifically aimed at countering the scourge of terror."


Demarcate First, Plan Later


At a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice two years later, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf divulged a plan to construct the border fence. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri said at the time that Islamabad's plan was aimed at undermining claims that Pakistan was not doing enough to curb cross-border terrorism. An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman responded to Musharraf's plan by saying that Kabul and Islamabad needed to demarcate the border under international law before there could be any discussion of a barrier.

The issue of "Pashtunistan" has brought Afghanistan and Pakistan to the brink of war on more than one occasion, and it has drained Afghanistan's economy and cost it political capital.

When Islamabad recently announced its intention to implement the plan to partially fence and mine the border, Afghan reaction was negative based on three factors.


The first was Afghanistan's legacy as one of the most mined countries on the globe, noting that new mines would inevitably kill and maim innocent people. The second was the assertion that fences and mines would separate Pashtun tribes living astride the border.


The third was the argument that the problem of terrorism lies not simply along the border area, but rather with those who finance, equip, and train the terrorists -- and in Kabul's eyes, Pakistan has proved to be a primary source of support for those seeking to destabilize Afghanistan.


While the official Pakistani response to Kabul's objections has been diplomatic, Pakistani commentators have been less subtle. In an editorial on December 28, the Islamabad-based daily "The News" wrote that "if anything, Pakistan's plan to mine and fence the frontier is a response to the shrill propaganda from Kabul that Islamabad is 'not doing enough' to stop the entry of terrorists across the border into Afghanistan."


Afghans waiting to cross into Pakistan (epa)

The daily argued that "if it doesn't like the plan, the Karzai government ought to come up with an effective solution." "At the same time," the paper said, "it should try harder to seal the cross-border routes of terrorists and saboteurs into Pakistan." That last point refers to longstanding charges by Islamabad that Afghanistan is allowing its territory to be used by Indian agents and New Delhi-supported subversive elements, especially in Baluchistan Province.


The initial point raised by the "The News" presents a tough challenge for Kabul, and it gets to the crux not only of the issue of Pakistan's alleged desire to destabilize the Karzai administration, but also of why Afghanistan has so adamantly opposed any formal demarcation of the boundary.


As the editorial suggests, Islamabad has raised the issue of fencing and mining the border largely as a political countermeasure to charges that Pakistan has failed to prevent cross-border movement by terrorists. If that were the case, one might expect Kabul to welcome such a measure; if terrorists are trained in Pakistan, then barriers to their entry should be viewed as a step in the right direction, even if such a move does not appear to have been made in good faith.


But for Kabul, neither the current cross-border activities nor the stability of Afghanistan would appear to trump the issue of the status of the border -- referred to by the Afghan side as the "Durand Line" after the foreign secretary of British India who set it out.


Historical Problem


The history of the Durand Line goes back to the Treaty of Gandumak, signed in May 1879 between British Major Louis Cavagnari and Afghan Amir Mohammad Yaqub Khan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1879-80. According to provisions of the Gandumak agreement, the British were to maintain a military and diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and control its foreign policy. Also, Britain was granted jurisdictional control of the three strategically significant frontier districts of Kurram, Sibi, and Pishin.


When the Gandumak plan failed to achieve peace, however the British opted to leave Afghanistan while ensuring that it remained a buffer state between their own Indian empire and the Russian empire in Central Asia.


When Abd al-Rahman became amir in 1880, Afghanistan's boundaries were not demarcated. The British sought at the time to keep the Russians out of -- and the amir inside -- a geographically defined Afghanistan.


Afghan soldiers watch as Pakistani soldiers go on alert in December (epa)

Article 4 of the Durand Agreement states that the "frontier line will hereafter be laid down in detail and demarcated, wherever this may be practicable and desirable, by Joint British and Afghan Commissioners, whose object will be to arrive by mutual understanding at a boundary which shall adhere with the greatest possible exactness" to the agreed map, and "have due regard to the existing local rights of villages adjoining the frontier."


So while the agreement set the limits of the territories of Afghanistan and British India on paper, the entire border was not actually demarcated at that time.


The issue of the Durand Line became thornier after 1947, when British India was split into two independent states: India and Pakistan. Afghanistan -- deep into its own search for identity and the formation of a nationalistic agenda -- called for the right of self-determination for ethnic Pashtuns inhabiting the region between the Durand Line and the Indus River.


This became known, at least in Kabul, as the "Pashtunistan" policy, and it effectively alienated Afghanistan from its new neighbor, Pakistan. On official Afghan maps at the time, the country's boundary with Pakistan was marked as disputed.


The issue of "Pashtunistan" has brought Afghanistan and Pakistan to the brink of war on more than one occasion, and it has drained Afghanistan's economy and cost it political capital.


For Pakistan, the existence of two hostile neighbors -- Afghanistan and India -- became a source of great concern. Although Kabul eventually opted to stay out of all the Indo-Pakistani wars, the possibility of having to fight simultaneously on two fronts has prompted Pakistan to try to intimidate the weaker of those threats, Afghanistan, continuously over the years.


Opportunity Missed


Arguably, Islamabad's golden chance to reduce the real or perceived Afghan threat came when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Although Pakistan was initially viewed as the next step in the Soviet march toward the "warm waters" of the Indian Ocean, the Soviets got bogged down in Afghanistan. That occurred with the help of mainly Pakistan-based resistance groups.


Finally, Islamabad could envisage a friendly post-Soviet Afghanistan, if not its own satellite state. The quest for an Islamabad-friendly government in Kabul manifested itself in the person of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other resistance leaders, all the way to the formation of the Taliban in 1994.


The state-run Kabul daily "Anis," reflecting a long-held view of Afghan governments, commented recently that "the Durand border has been one of Pakistan's most basic concerns since its establishment."


The paper went on to argue that "the British Empire imposed the border [on] Abd al-Rahman Khan 114 years ago and [said that] in doing so, it cut off part of the Afghan territory and added it to British India." "Anis" accused Pakistan of knowingly "acting against an absolute right of the Afghans" and vowed that "one day when Afghans are mighty, they will surely reclaim that part of their territory."


Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have suffered from mutual misjudgments over the past five decades. Kabul and Islamabad are playing an old hand that has already been overplayed, and the result threatens to hearten terrorists and their allies on both sides of the border.


Unfortunately, international terrorism will reap the benefits until Pakistan accepts Afghanistan as a sovereign state -- one not subservient to Islamabad's demands -- and Kabul begins to concentrate on events inside its own borders.

The Afghan Insurgency

A U.S. military vehicle damaged by insurgents near Kandahar (epa)

HOMEGROWN OR IMPORTED? As attacks against Afghan and international forces continue relentlessly, RFE/RL hosted a briefing to discuss the nature of the Afghan insurgency. The discussion featured Marvin Weinbaum, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and RFE/RL Afghanistan analyst Amin Tarzi.


LISTEN

Listen to the entire briefing (about 83 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


ARCHIVE

RFE/RL's coverage of Afghanistan.



SUBSCRIBE

For weekly news and analysis on Afghanistan by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report."

XS
SM
MD
LG