Pak-Afghan relations: The Durand Line issue

August 3, 2015 OPINION/NEWS




Mairaj ul Hamid

The Pak-Afghan internationally accepted border known as the Durand Line has always been a bone of contention in Pak-Afghan relations since the birth of Pakistan in 1947. Due to this border, Afghanistan refused to recognise Pakistan, although it was mutually agreed between the then two states, British India and Afghanistan. However, this issue is still alive due to the lack of proper information and a misunderstanding of the related document.

The majority of the Afghan population are holding the belief that this agreement was meant only for 100 years. If this was true then the agreement would have expired in 1993. The main figures among the Afghan mainstream are also not ready to deny this fact. Nevertheless, neither the Afghan government nor the Afghan activists have ever presented any overt document or testimony to prove their claim.

However, the validity of the agreement was initially binding to the lifetimes of the Afghan rulers who ratified it. At first the agreement was signed by Amir Abdur Rahman and Foreign secretary of British India, Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893. After the death of Abdur Rahman his son King Habibullah Khan was the signatory to the agreement along with Sir Louis Dane, when the later arrived in Kabul in 1904, with the draft of a new agreement. An agreement named ‘Dane-Habibullah agreement’ was signed between the two states on March 21, 1905. This agreement was operative until the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919.

Following the Anglo-Afghan War, Afghan interior minister Ali Ahmad Khan, along with a peace delegation visited Rawalpindi, signing a ‘peace agreement between Great Britain and Afghanistan’ on August 8, 1919. Article 5 of this treaty stated that “The Afghan Government accepts the Indo-Afghan Frontier accepted by the late Emir” [Habibullah Khan]. Thus for the first time the Durand Line was set free of any personal undertaking by the King. This agreement was ratified again in the ‘Kabul Agreement’ on November 22, 1921. This stated that “Respective Parties recognise the Indian Afghan Border as was recognised by article 8, of Rawalpindi agreement, 1919.”

Furthermore, King Nadir Khan also accepted the agreements through a Diplomatic instrument with the British Government on July 1930. This states that “I am proud to officially confess that our position about both the agreements [agreement of 1919 and Trade agreement of June 1923] enjoy complete validity and are enforceable with full force.”

Later on, the Afghan Prime Minister Shah Mehmood Khan, met the British Secretary of Foreign Affairs on July 31, 1947 and declared that all Border agreements between British and Afghan Governments will be null and void, when the former ceases power of British India. Consequently, from the very first day of its birth, Pak-Afghan relations became hostile due to the Border issue. Since then, Afghan embassies and consulates strived systematically to disseminate this official view point all over the world.

Nevertheless, International Law opposes this stand of the Afghan Government. Internationally, the issues of succession of states are dealt with by the ‘Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of treaties (VCSSRT)’ 1978. This Treaty was enforced in 1996, when it got ratification from a great number of states. Article 11 of VCSSRT clearly states that “succession of states cannot impact international borders agreed upon in result of an agreement and rights and obligations concerning international borders created through an agreement.” So, the birth of Pakistan as a successor of British India does not affect the legality of the Border.

Although Afghanistan is not a signatory to the Treaty, it is ratified by a large number of states, including Pakistan. Moreover the preamble of VCSSRT also states that the issues which are beyond its scope will be dealt with in accordance with International Customary Law. This law is derived from the customs of a state, so in this respect Afghanistan’s stance over the Durand Line is invalid after the creation of Pakistan. If this issue is referred to the International Court of Justice by the Parties, even then it seems impossible that the Afghani stance over the illegitimacy would be proved and justified.

It is also a matter of concern that Afghanistan shares its borders with nations other than Pakistan. These borders were demarcated by the great Powers, ie. Britain and Russia and Britain and Iran, without the involvement of Afghanistan. The legitimacy of these borders has still not been questioned by Afghanistan, except the Durand line, which is the only mutually agreed border between the two states.

It is high time for both Pakistan and Afghanistan to move forward and resolve the issues of mutual concern, because both states have many more challenges to deal with. Both of them should fight terrorism, militancy, extremism, ignorance, poverty and develop their infrastructure, despite blaming each other and wasting their potential on non fruitful activities.








Mairaj ul Hamid

Mairaj ul Hamid is a Writer and Research Coordinator at the Institute of Policy Studies, in Islamabad, Pakistan.


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