By Tahir Khan
An Afghan lawmaker Abdul Latif Pedram’s remarks that he considers Durand Line is an “internationally recognized border” between Afghanistan and Pakistan has led to heated debate in the war-torn county, some people accusing the ethnic Tajik politician of committing treason.
Pedram, member of the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of the parliament, from the northern Badakhshan province, and chief of the Afghanistan National Congress party, “‘Hezb-e-Kongara Milli Afghanistan” was speaking in Kabul following recent statements by some Afghan leaders including Hamid Karzai that Kabul will not accept Durand Line as official border.
Karzai raised the Durand Line issue last month after the Pakistani cabinet approved comprehensive reforms in the militancy-affected tribal regions. Mr Karzai used his official Twitter to claim that the Government of Pakistan has “no legal authority to dictate terms on the Durand Line.”
It is not only Pedram but the majority non-Pashtun population supports an early solution to the decades long border dispute with Pakistan. Similarly, there was a growing recognition among the Pashtun elite that the dispute cannot remain unresolved forever. However, people do not publicly speak like Pedram because of the sensitive nature of the issue, especially when the relations between the two uneasy neighbours are currently at the lowest ebb.
Afghans have serious suspicions about Pakistan’s decision to fence the border, introduce passports and visas for every Afghan, entering Pakistan and routinely closing of the crossing points. On its part Pakistan argues these steps have been taken to regulate the cross-border movement. The sad aspect is that leaders in both countries have not yet agreed on any bilateral border mechanism despite serious challenges the two countries are facing.
Pedram, also poet and writer, told a news conference in Kabul at the weekend that his party his party recognizes the Durand Line as official border and that most of the tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan is rooted in Kabul’s failure to publicly acknowledge this, according to the Afghan media.
“Solving problems with Pakistan will help bring peace to Afghanistan,” said Pedram, who ran for president in the October 2004 elections and launched first opposition party against the two-headed national unity government just in 2014.
The leading Tolo TV quoted him as claiming that the government “quietly accepts the Durand Line as the border but is not honest in its recognition with the public.” He challenged the government to approach the United Nations if it does not recognize the Durand Line.
“Peace and stability will be guaranteed in the region when the issue is resolved,” the Afghan MP said, adding that the Durand Line had been the cause of disputes in the region over the past several decades.
Pakistan has long been saying that the Durand Line issue is a settled issue and opening discussions on it is a distraction from the more pressing issues requiring the priority attention and cooperation of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan is not along on its stance on the Durand Line. When Mr Karzai said during his tenure that no Afghan gov’t had recognized the Durand Line, nor would his government budge under the Pakistani pressure to do so, then America’s former special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, stated that America regarded the Durand Line as an internationally-accepted boundary. Later the State Department spokesman endorsed Grossman’s stance after reporters sought his comments.
In the early months of Hamid Karzai’s regime, media hype in Afghanistan had surrounded “the plan” to recognize the Durand Line, however then government mostly remained silent over the issue. Section of the media had quoted “anonymous sources in the Afghan government” asserting that the government had been planning to hold a ‘Loya Jirga’ or grand assembly to discuss major issues of national importance, including the recognition of the Durand Line.
During Karzai government a Russian expert on Central Asia, Alexander Knyazev, had told the media in Kabul that “the Afghan government had prepared a document on recognizing the Line as the final border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But this issue will not be resolved by Karzai because this issue will evoke negative reactions from nationalist Pashtuns who want to annex the tribal Pashtunistan region to Afghanistan.”
Knyazev’s claims were also reported by several Afghan sources, but received little reaction from then government. Some speculated that the dispute over the Durand Line would be resolved as part of a planned strategic cooperation pact with Pakistan. But it did not happen until Karzai stepped down in September 2014.
What is Duran Line?
The Durand Line agreement was signed between Afghan King Abdul Rahman Khan and British India’s Foreign Secretary Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893. The Durand Line constitutes part of the current border between the two countries, not the entire mutual border.
After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, some Afghan rulers continued to dispute the legality of the borderline. It is widely believed that the territorial claim sowed the seeds of hostility between the two countries.
The author Tahir Khan is a journalist for The Express Tribune and a distinguished member of CRSS Pak-Afghan Track 1.5/II initiative, ‘Beyond Boundaries’.