How Karzai’s Durand Line Statement Hurts Af-Pak peace process

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s former President, yesterday stirred a new controversy when, in his tweet, he argued that his country would never accept the Durand Line with Pakistan. His tweets came after  a temporary closure, currently in place, of the Torkham border crossing coupled with the reforms package approved with FATA, which would see the tribal areas merge with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

This was not the first instance that Karzai, or other Afghan politicians, expressed such sentiments regarding the legal status of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Durand line is a 2400 km border that Pakistan shares with Afghanistan. It was demarked in 1896, during an agreement between Sir Mortimer Durand, a British Civil servant, and King Amir Abur Rehman of Afghanistan. The line was supposed to divide Pashtuns on both sides as the British Raj aimed at curbing insurgencies and problems faced by it on the Pashtun tribal belt.

A number of Afghan leaders and politicians, over the years, have argued that the Durand Line treaty should have expired after 100 years (in 1996), yet, historians say that there is no documentary evidence that puts an expiry date or a time limit on the agreement. Moreover, the line is now an internationally recognized border, with only Afghanistan refusing to accept its legality.

The statement from Karzai comes at a fragile point in time when both the neighbours are going through a rough and patchy phase in bilateral relations. These relations were recently marred by a recent spate of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, killing more than 100 people, with the state agencies blaming Afghan-based terrorists for the attacks.

Pakistan has also temporarily shut down the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan, citing the terrorist influx as the primary cause for action. Kabul has reacted strongly to this action, stating that lives of thousands of Afghans are being negatively affected by this closure. Afghanistan’s diplomat in Islamabad, Omar Zakhilwal, also argued, on his Facebook, that Pakistan does not have a valid reason to close the border crossing. Interestingly, his statements were also full of policy contradictions.

On one hand, he is voicing his country’s concerns regarding negative effects of border closure on trade, yet on the other hand, his government is adopting a “Pakistan-boycott strategy at the state level.  To make the matters worse, Kabul is actively participating in events organized in, or by, India – who is also gunning for Pakistan’s global isolation –  to discuss matters of regional security as well as bilateral interests.

Karzai’s antics are no different from his time in power. When in Afghanistan, his statements were explicitly anti-Pakistan, whereas on each of his state visits to Islamabad, his feelings and emotions were nothing but “brotherly” for Pakistan. Having stayed away from the media limelight soon after transferring power to the Unity Government, his recent statement might point towards his renewed interests in re-joining the political fold in Kabul.

Karzai’s statement comes at a time when Pashtuns both in Afghanistan and Pakistan are living in poor socio-economic conditions. Rather than politicising Pashtuns and a legal border, Karzai would be better off using his experience in governance, consulting the policy makers in Kabul on improving these conditions for the Pashtuns and Afghans in general. Also, when both the neighbours can hardly afford confrontation, provocative statements by a former head of state, dismissing an internationally recognized border, would do little good in improving Af-Pak ties.

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