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Why Durand Line Fence? – OpEd

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In Robert Frost’s poem; “Good Fences make Good Neighbours”, but do good neighbours really need fences? How can a Fence be a Deewar- e- Aman  (peace fence) as hailed by many at times?

“We [Taliban] will not allow the fencing anytime, in any form. Whatever they [Pakistan] did before, they did, but we will not allow it anymore. There will be no fencing anymore,” Mawllawi Sanaullah Sangin, Commander of the Taliban, told Afghanistan’s Tolo News on January 5.

The Durand Line issue is a legacy of the 19th century Great Game  which  sowed seeds of distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan since decades, and will be a contentious burning issue between the Afghan Taliban Government and Pakistan.The Durand Line was a creation by the British between the Russian and British empires to use Afghanistan  as a counter buffer state against the Russian expansionism to its east.The agreement  was signed on November 12, 1893 between the British civil servant Sir Henry Mortimer Durand and Amir Abdur Rahman, then the Afghan ruler. The 2,670-km Durand Line  drawn on  a small map stretches from the border with China to Afghanistan’s border with Iran.It is a matter of record that it has, since inception, been mired in controversy. 

In reality, the Durand line cut through Pashtun tribal areas, leaving villages and families divided.It has been described as a Line of Hatred and Curse’.   It was a British ploy to divide the Pashtuns so that the British could exercise control over the Pathans of the Wild West then known as NWFP’ (North West Frontier Province) and presently  known as  Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province less the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) in  Pakistan. It also included  the strategic Khyber Pass on the British side.The Durand Line was never intended to constitute an international border between Afghanistan and India, but merely it was to mark the limits of the spheres of influence.

Post independence in 1947, Pakistan inherited the Durand Line, and with it  the  Pashtuns got divided into two countries. Afghanistan was the only country to vote against Pakistan joining the United Nations in 1947.Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan the ‘Frontier Gandhi’  had demanded ‘Pashtunistan’ as an independent country for the Pashtuns. 

When the Taliban seized power in Kabul the first time, they rejected the Durand Line. They also strengthened Pashtun identity with an Islamic radicalism to produce the Tehreek-e- Pakistan, whose terrorist attacks  on Pakistani border posts continue by militants that Pakistan accuse  Afghanistan of sheltering – while the Afghan government accused Pakistan of giving safe haven to Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network. Even the Pakistan sponsored and supported Taliban regime has never  accepted the Durand Line.

Indian LoC fence was constructed  over  740-km LoC along the Pakistan border including high altitude areas leading to the Kashmir Valley.The  construction began in the 1990s  and was completed in late 2004. It is designed to keep the incomiming militants out and the misguided  Kashmir youth in.To guard against the Pak sponsered proxy war of terrorism it may have fullfilled the role to a large extent.No  obstacle systems have ever been able to stop determined intruders. It has been estimated that the fencing has cost the nation over crores of rupees and will need to be replaced or maintained  with a recurring expenditure of few crores every summer .

It appears Pakistan got encouraged by the efficacy of the Indian LoC fence in J&K and went ahead with the construction of the Durand  Line border fence along  the border with Afghanistan notwithstanding the high construction and maintenance costs.

The Afghan Taliban has removed the Durand Line barbed wire fence erected by Pakistani forces in the Gushta district of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province  and even threatened to go to war. DG ISPR Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar  told the media, of the resolve to complete the border fencing of the Durand Line, notwithstanding the objections of the Afghan Taliban.Pakistan is about to complete the construction of the Durand Line border fence ( 2,640km ) which was started in March 2017. .Nearly 1,000 border posts are also being constructed along the border to enhance the security. Cross-border movement will only be allowed through 16 formally designated crossing points after the completion of the project, which is expected to cost more than $500m in total.

Since Pakistan began erecting the fence  it may have reduced the movement of militants from Afghanistan into Pakistan,but it did little to stop the movement of Afghan Taliban. The fence has turned out to be  a source of more tensions, as Afghans and Pashtuns on both sides of the border see it as a move by Pakistan to formalize the boundary as permanent. The fencing of the borders comes with allied challenges. The fence adversely affects the daily lives of families who have lands and relatives on both sides of the border.  Traders have cross  border trade issues.The border fence undoubtedly will provide a tactical respite and reduce the number of cross-border attacks. But until sustainable peace is achieved in Afghanistan, and the grievances of the Pashtun tribes are resolved, no barrier can successfully bring peace, stability and long term security to the region.

Pakistan needs to change its approach to their traditional policies towards Afghanistan for its own selfish  interests. Pakistan, claims outwardly to be Afghanistan’s well wisher but looks for their strategic gains to control the Afghan governance through proxy. The Pashtun Taliban and other Afghans are a proud race not accustomed to listen and be managed by others. Afghans do retain their traditional animosity towards Pakistan and  their  Durand Line issue,and now to further add on the fencing of the Durand Line.  

Regrettably, both the US and the UK have made known their acceptance of the Durand Line for the obvious reasons of their historic tilt towards Pakistan, as the legitimacy of the line is clearly questionable. 

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s (‘Frontier Gandhi’) most notable contribution, was his involvement with the Indian National Congress. Both Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mahatma Gandhi had a very close bond, marked by shared principles  of non violence and Satyagraha.However ,the Indian National Congress let him and the Pashtuns down.He reportedly told the senior Congress leaders; “You have thrown us to wolves.” In hindsight if not ‘Pashtunistan’ of his vision,India should at least let the Pashtuns stay together then divided. India has so far refrained from taking any firm stand on the Durand Line issue, but it is worth considering the possibility of expressing  reservations about it at an appropriate occasion considering Pakistan’s pledged hostility towards India. India-Afghanistan relations could go on to a higher pitch or now to provide an opportunity to develop relations with the Afghan Taliban as no other country has ever supported Afghanistan on the Durand Line issue. 

 Source : India should question legality of Durand Line between Afghan, Pak : Satish Chandra

*Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army. Possess unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Regular writer on matters military in professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker. 

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