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De-Mythicizing The Durand Line – Article by Muhammad Huzaifa Nizam

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The Durand Line is a 2340-Kilometer-long source of contention between the states of Pakistan and Afghanistan. A border stretching from the vestiges of the Pamir steppes in the north to the arid region of Chaghi in the south, its history is submerged in controversy and myths. The myths are ardently believed to the point where many parties involved in some way with the border issue have seemed to reference them in their speeches. In order to rid it of much of the controversy now considered as the permanent legacy of the border, one must look back at the history of the Durand Line and break many of the popular myths which only seek to serve fallacious narratives.

Myth 1: KPK was sold to the British.

In reality KPK or rather NWFP did not even exist as a provincial unit at the time of the Agreement. NWFP was created in 1901 whereas the Durand Line Agreement took place in 1893. At the time of the agreement the area which now comprises of KPK consisted in the north, of 2 Independent princely states of Chitral and Jandul (Later Dir and Swat). The areas of Peshawar, Bannu, Kohat, Charsadda and Hazara were already annexed by the British from the Khalsa empire following the second Anglo Sikh war, almost 4 decades prior to the Durand Line Agreement. Even some Tribal agencies such as Khyber and Kurram had been overtaken in the treaty of Gandamak. However, Afghanistan didn’t control any of these areas and as evident from the text of the agreement, the Emir of Afghanistan simply revoked the claims he had made on certain parts of what would go on to form the NWFP.

Myth 2: The British acquired Peshawar through the Agreement.

The frontier city of Peshawar had been conquered by the Durrani empire in 1747 and held for an odd 44 years when Ranjit Singh’s armies snatched it in 1818 and annexed it in 1832. The British, following the battle of Gujrat, annexed Peshawar along with surrounding areas and governed it as a part of the province of Punjab. Thus Peshawar was completely unaffected from the Durand Line agreement.

Myth 3: All of KPK and Baluchistan were involved in the Durand Line Agreement.

The Durand Line Agreement was only but a delimitation agreement set to delimit the zones of influence where the Afghan and British frontiers met. This included only the western borders of the northern princely states, the tribal region and the northern boundaries of British Baluchistan. The Durand Line Agreement had no affect whatsoever on the inner portions of both provinces. For instances the vast amount of land lying between Chaman and Makran or Peshawar and attock remained unaffected.

Myth 4: The Durand Line was imposed on Afghanistan.

The fact of the matter is, it was Afghanistan that had asked to settle its borders with British India not once but twice. On the first instance the Afghan plea for setting the limits of their empire with British India In October 1888 was rejected by the British. The now humbled Afghan Emir once again asked the British to settle their boundaries with his empire in 1893 and as a result the Durand line Agreement was made. No imposition of will was made on the Afghan Emir.

Myth 5: The Durand line agreement was only for a 100 years.

A simple thorough reading of the text of the agreement can easily break apart this falsely propagated narrative of the agreement having an expiration date. No mention of any kind of time frame or expiration date is made in the 7 brief clauses of the agreement. If that is not enough of a counter argument for the staunch believers of this myth, what puts this debate to rest is the fact that delimitation agreements never have time frames since it involves the creation of mutually agreed frontiers and not lease of land to either side.

Myth 6: Afghanistan lost a large amount of land but didn’t gain anything.

Delimitation of borders always involves the gain and loss of land for both parties and so was the case with the Durand Line. However, contrary to popular belief of Afghanistan losing land equal to almost the entirety of its current area, it actually gained more land than it had lost. The land lost by Afghanistan only consisted of the tribal hill countries of Waziristan, Mohmand and Bajaur though all areas were strategically important. Whereas Afghanistan gained the now highly important Wakhan strip which separated Northern British India from Tsarist Russia, Kafiristan (Nuristan) which was under the suzerainty of Chitral and thus a part of the British Empire and a large tract of land in northern British Baluchistan known as Dasht — I — Arbuh. The amount of land gained by Afghanistan when put together is many folds larger than the small amount of troublesome hill countries which it lost. The amount of land lost and gained can be made evident by the remarks of the Afghan Emir:

“The province of Wakhan, which had come under my dominion, I arranged to be left under the British for protection, as it was too far from Kabul, and cut off from the rest of my country, and therefore very difficult to be properly fortified.

The boundary line was agreed upon from Chitral and Baroghil Pass up to Peshawar, and thence up to Koh Malik Siyah in this way that Wakhan, Kafiristan, Asmar, Mohmand of Lalpura, and one portion of Waziristan came under my rule, and I renounced my claims from the railway station of New Chaman, Chageh, the rest of Waziri, Bulund Khel, Kuram, Afridi, Bajaur, Swat, Buner, Dir, Chilas, and Chitral.”

Pertinent to note here are the wordings used. The Emir confessed that he had directly gained Wakhan, Asmar, Kafiristan but stated that he “revoked his claims” from the other regions mentioned. This makes it even clearer the nature of the agreement and actions it involved from the Afghan side which were primarily revoking of claims in order to stop interfering in the matters of these regions, something Afghanistan was notorious for.

Myth 7: The agreement isn’t valid between Pakistan and Afghanistan

One of the most Vital Principles of International law; the Uti possidetis juris states clearly that newly formed sovereign states retain the borders which were held by their preceding nations. Thus Pakistan, which won its independence from the British, under international law, can fully retain the Durand line as its border.

The contemporary narrative pushed by our western neighbors in a bid to somehow claim parts of Pakistan to satisfy their own lust for a powerful or rather greater version of their country is a narrative flawed and moth eaten by self-contradictions. If Afghanistan is to not view its border with Pakistan as binding, it would have to extend this courtesy to its northern, northwestern and southern border too which were all drawn by the British. It is high time for all regional players to come out of the vehement dreams of days passed by and work together for the betterment of the region.

Source: Original article was written by Muhammad Huzaifa Nizam for medium.com
Url Link: https://medium.com/@mhuzaifa1018/de-mythicizing-the-durand-line-b3a9b4bf2f56

Dr. Faryal Rao

Dr. Faryal Rao

Full time mother, part time blogger.

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