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So-Called Durand Line: Myth and Reality - Pakistan House

So-Called Durand Line: Myth and Reality


Juma Khan Sufi

All the hate and aversion inherent in Afghanistan vis-a-vis Pakistan stem from this issue. But let us examine it from the legal and historical perspective:

There is wealth of literature surrounding this issue in Afghanistan obfuscating minds of the people, especially of Pashtoons.  This has created chasm between the two neighbouring countries contributing to permanent tension which has always been stoked by interested quarters from time to time on both sides of the international border.  Afghanistan is awash with such narrative in the shape of poetry, history books, text-books, geography,essays, articles, radio broadcasts, print and electronic media.

It would be pertinent to change its name into Durand-Aman Line or Grandfather-Grandson border, as it was drawn at the behest and request of Amir Abdul Rehman Khan in 1893 and made into a permanent, de jure and international border by his grandson, Amir Amanullah Khan, through his reckless jihad which made him Ghazi in 1919.

If you read the autobiography of Amir Abdul Rehman Khan, he rightly boasts to have drawn the borders of Afghanistan, including Indo-Afghan border, since he wanted to protect his country from future encroachments of inimical forces.  For this purpose he mentions his communications to viceroys of India, Marques of Dufferin and Marques of Ripon.

Sir Mortimer Durand was sent to Afghanistan during the Viceroyalty of their successor, Lord Lansdowne, not at the bidding of Amir, which was also there, but on the urgent mission of ratifying and endorsing the Clarendon-Gorchakov Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1873 by Amir on the continuous insistence of Russian government.  The Durand Treaty was of secondary importance for him, though Amir considered it of primary importance.

So on 12 November 1893, two treaties were signed:  firstly, the Anglo-Russian treaty of specifying the borders of northwester limit of British sphere of influence and southern limit of Russian sphere of influence, which meant that Afghan border should be based on Amu River from the eastern-most limit of Wood Lake (Zoskul) towards the Persian border of rivers Amu-Kokcha confluence on the northwest. Therefore, Durand’s brief was to persuade Amir to abandon the trans-border districts of Roshan and Shaghnan under his occupation across Amu and in return accept the cis-Amu part of Darwaz district then occupied by Amir of Bokhara. Amir easily accepted and endorsed this arrangement and subsequently signed it.  This was primary duty which was easily concluded.  Second treaty was about the Indo-Afghan treaty, which was of primary importance to Amir and constituted ‘negotiation on other things’ in Durand’s brief.

If one reads the report of Sir Mortimer Durand to his Government in India and Viceroy’s report to the British Government at London, the so-called Durand line was not meant to be a permanent border between the two countries, but indicative of the northwester limit of sphere of influence of British India and southeaster limit of Amir’s authority.

1905 Agreement:

Had Durand Treaty been signed under duress as Afghans claim, though Amir’s autobiography and Durand report indicate otherwise, then what was the need of concluding another such treaty?  Had it been a permanent border treaty, then what was the need of signing 1905 treaty?  Had it been a de jure treaty, then what was the urgency to sign another treaty?  These are question which amply demonstrate that Durand treaty was neither signed under duress nor was it a permanent de jure border treaty.

In 1901 the iron Amir, who is the actual founder of modern centralised Afghanistan with specific borders and official name, dies of natural death and his elder son, Habibullah Khan, assumed the title of new Amir.  Lord Curzon, who was then the Viceroy of India, invites him to Rawalpindi to sign another treaty.  Amir Habibullah Khan replies that he abides by the treaty and commitments made by his late father.  But Viceroy insists that the same treaty was personal not dynastic and every new ruler has to sign fresh treaty.  Amir refuses to come to Rawalpindi.  In order to bear pressure upon him, the government of India stops the payment of 18 lacs annual subsidy paid to his father and rescinds the facility of shipment of arms and ammunition to Afghanistan.

Amir is forced to invite foreign secretary of British India, Sir Louis Dane, to Afghanistan in December 1904 for negotiations.  Dane brings with him the draft of a new treaty for negotiation.  Amir insists on his stand and after three months of excruciating talks, Louis Dane only succeeds in making Amir sign a very short treaty in March 1905 reconfirming the Durand Agreement.  Lord Curzon is not amused, but London is happy.

And the happiness of London is reflected in the fact that British Government addresses him as His Majesty in the treaty and His Majesty by King Edwards when he visited India in 1907.  Despite of the existence of German mission of Niedermayer-Heting to convince Amir to side with the Central Powers in First World War, Amir finally opts for neutrality and earns British gratitude.  Afterwards, Amir approaches British India to grant complete independence to Afghanistan, the control of foreign relations of which had been with British hands since 1879.  The British did not reject his request but adopted delaying tactics and his request was under consideration that he was murdered in February 1919 in Laghman under dubious circumstances.  Amanullah Khan blamed his uncle, Amir Nasrullah Khan, but fingers points to Amanullah Khan who like his uncle was not happy with pro-British policies of his late father.

1919 Peace Treaty of Rawalpindi:

Amanullah Khan at the dent of his influence in the army seized power and installed himself Amir on 28th February 1919, arresting his anti-British popular uncle Nasrullah Khan who had declared himself successor to his assassinated brother in Jalalabad on 21st February.  Basically anti-British, but Amanulllah Khan also needed to consolidate his power internally, therefore, he declared jihad on British India on 6th May 1919.  He was under illusion that the war-weary Indian troops could be easily defeated under combined onslaught of Afghan forces and tribesmen and thus he would wrest back the territory and gain independence.  But he was utterly mistaken.  Indian forces made advances on Jalalabad front occupying Dakka advancing towards the city and occupied Spin Buldak advancing towards Kandahar. Jalalabad and Kabul were bombed creating panic among the population, though some gains were made on Kurram front by Afghan forces led by Nadir Khan seizing Tall post with help of tribesmen.

Amir Amanullah Khan got terrified and requested the Viceroy for an immediate ceasefire.  War ended on 3rd June.   Negotiations started in Rawalpindi in August for peace.  Afghan side was headed by Ali Ahmad Khan, in charge of interior affairs of Afghanistan, and British India was represented by Sir Hamilton Grant, external affairs secretary of India.  Since war had been initiated by Afghanistan and also had been lost by it, therefore, Indian side had the upper hand.  The five articles treaty signed on 8th August (according to old Julian calendar) 1919, the fifth article of which recognises the Indo-Afghan border, is punishing treaty dictated by British.  India confiscates all the arrears of late Amir Subsidy and the amount promised to him as reward for keeping the country neutral during the world war, stops the shipment of war material to Afghanistan and enshrines in it that if Afghanistan proved its credentials by its action to revive the old friendship, then British side would be happy to invite an Afghan mission to India after six months to negotiate a new friendship treaty.

As it is in vogue in all dealings of persons, tribes, communities or nations, when the two sides clash, the last understanding and agreement reached afterwards cancels all the previous agreements.  The important part of this agreement is the supplementary letter, which is annexure to this treaty, addressed to Ali Ahmad Khan on his query about the nature of the treaty, whether it recognised in unequivocal terms the independence of Afghanistan.  The letter clearly states that from then onwards Afghanistan would remain independent in internal and external matters without any interference from British side.  However, adding in last sentence that the said war had cancelled all the previous treaties reached between the two sides.  It means that 1809, 1855, 1893, 1905 and all the minor agreements stand cancelled and thenceforth alluding to Durand Treaty is wide of mark.

After six months the Mussoorrie talks in India between the two sides fail to bear fruits.  However on 22 November 1921 a treaty of friendship and trade relations is signed, which was ratified and its documents exchanged on 6th February 1922, and on which British based their argument rejecting Afghan stand afterwards.  Let me add that the last 14th Article of the said treaty stipulates that it can be cancelled within three years of its signature by either side before one year expiration of three years.  Afghanistan did not terminate it.


Afghan Position:

Since the creation of Pakistan, Afghanistan has time and again raising this issue, which has now become part of Afghans/Pashtoons internal national narrative.  They raise four objections on the Pak-Afghan border:


  1. This Agreement (so-called Durand) was signed under duress with a puppet Amir.
  2. Some argue that like Hong Kong this was meant for 100 years and its validity has already expired.
  3. This treaty was signed with British and not with Pakistan and with the withdrawal of British from India, it is now open.
  4. No one in Afghanistan is authorised to speak against their stand on this issue and only Loya Jirga is a proper legal forum to deliberate and change the present position – the unilateral termination of all treaties reached with British India.


The answer to the first objection is that the autobiography of Amir and the report of Sir Mortimer Durand states otherwise.  All other borders with Persia, Russia (now Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) and China were drawn with the help of British.  Why all other borders are acceptable?  It was only in Durand arrangements that Afghanistan was represented as a side.

Second objection is also spurious.  There is no such clause in the treaty that it was for 100 years and if one goes by history, it was only meant for the duration of Amir’s stewardship, therefore, the need for signing 1905 Agreement emerged.

Third objection also carries no weight as with the extinct of both British India and Russia (Soviet Union for that matter) both signatories of fixing Aghan-Russia border, the borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan did not lose validity.  The same is true of border with China and Iran.  Then how could one question their international de jure status.  All Afghan borders were drawn by others, especially British.

Fourthly, Loya Jirga held in 1955 has cancelled all the treaties reached with British India and only Loya Jirga is authorised to change the position adopted by Loya Jirga in 1955.  Loya Jirga is an invented tradition imposed by Zahir Shah Monarchy on Afghanistan to perpetuate their rule and is now accepted by all in Afghanistan.  However, it is a forum that can easily be bribed and manipulated by powers as the recent Loya Jirgas held in Kabul to elect Hamid Karzai proved.  And the President Karzai himself made it a worthless phenomenon when Loya Jirga of 2013 unanimously asked him to sign and ratify the Bilateral Security Agreement with USA and he contemptuously rejected its unanimous verdict.

Whatever the legal position of Pak-Afghan border, Afghans are not going to buy the legal argument.  They are not going to raise it in any bilateral or multilateral forum, rather they would hypocritically say that in practice, they acknowledge the de facto existing borders as they are unable to sell its de jure status to its own population.  They themselves would never discuss it in the country.  However, the anti-Pakistan mindset among them will continue to operate in their relationship with Pakistan.  Although, the non-Pashtoon population are immune to such malaise and they entertain no such ideas in their mind about Pakistan, yet Pashtoon dimension of this relationship is beyond any reproach.  To my mind, only a reverse logic can convince them about their futile position.  The reverse argument can be attributed to the fact that once in history, the founder of Afghanistan Ahmad Shah Abdali, ruled over the country which comprised of present day Afghanistan, Pakistan with whole of Kashmir and Punjab. .  Let the non-recognition of border between the two countries lead to revival of such arrangement.  Powerful forces within Pakistan, not government, must raise such voice.

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