As the war in Afghanistan continues, officials and residents of the troubled border region say that Pakistan is taking advantage of the situation to push across the fluid boundary known as the Durand Line on the southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan.
Ever since 1893, when Sir Henry Mortimer Durand and Afghan ruler Amir Abdul Rahman Khan signed the treaty demarcating the boundary between what was then British India and Afghanistan, the border region has been a problem. The 2,640-kilometer Durand Line split an ethnic group, the Pashtuns, almost down the middle, dividing families and larger communities, who responded by simply ignoring the division.
Now, say residents and some Afghan officials, Pakistan is trying to extend its reach: with Afghanistan steeped in the conflict and economic hardship, Pakistan is pushing across the border, trying to expand its control over the troubled area.
“Pakistan has ignored the Durand Line,” said General Aminullah Amarkhel, senior commander of Afghan border forces in the eastern zone. “There are 30 Pakistani checkpoints now along the border, and another 16 on Afghan soil in the Goshta and Lal Pur districts of Nangarhar Province and some areas of Kunar.”
Something must be done quickly, added Mohammad Yaqub Ahmadzai, Deputy Minister of Tribal and Border Affairs.
“This problem has existed for a long time and could be solved through dialogue,” he told http://www.bamdad.af. “This problem is widespread in all our border areas, and we are seeking solutions.”
According to Ahmadzai, there are some groups in the area that are deliberately trying to destabilize the situation, creating tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“There are 30 Pakistani checkpoints now along the border, and another 16 on Afghan soil in the Goshta and Lal Pur districts of Nangarhar Province and some areas of Kunar.”
“Neighboring countries have benefited from the prolonged war in Afghanistan,” he said. Plus, he added, there are other difficulties with Afghanistan’s borders.
“There is no real border between Afghanistan and its northern neighbors – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan,” said Ahmadzai. “The Amu Darya River has changed course and washed out many hectares of land on the Afghan side. Our Ministry has taken some measures but the President wants to seek a diplomatic solution to the problem.”
But with Afghanistan and Pakistan diplomacy can only go so far given the current strained relationship between the two countries.
The Durand Line was not a major issue in the early 20th century, under Kings Amanullah Khan and Nader Khan. But following the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, problems arose. By 1955, the two countries were on the point of armed conflict, and the Afghan Prime Minister, Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan, stationed troops along the border. At that time, diplomacy averted the crisis.
Under the Communist regime of Najibullah, 1986-1992, Pakistan and Afghanistan were again at loggerheads over the Durand Line. But during the civil war and the Taliban regime that followed, the issue was once again allowed to drop.
With the new government of President Hamid Karzai, which took office after the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, the problem has reared its head periodically.
According to some observers, the Durand Line is a cancer at the heart of the Afghan state. Border areas are now being claimed by Pakistan, they say, which could have negative consequences for the region.
“Pakistan is now taking possession of our district,” said Sadaat Khan, a resident of Goshta district in Nangarhar Province. “At first they were providing basic health services and education, then they moved in the military. Now they say it is theirs.”
The expansion is continuing, he added.
“Pakistan accelerated its efforts to take over more land in Mazeri-e-Chinia, Khogakhil, Lawar Ghashi and Anar Khil when the Taliban regime collapsed,” he said. “Recently, Pakistani forces have entered Spina Bara and Dub Baba, claiming that there are Taliban and Al Qaeda in the area.”
Others tell the same tale.
“Pakistani military forces have distributed Pakistani ID cards in those areas,” said Malik Munshi, a tribal elder of the Goshta district. “Reportedly Pakistan plans to expand towards the Kunar River.”
Pakistani military have established checkpoints in Afghan areas that had been under missile attacks over the past few months, he added. They are not allowing people to return to their homes.
Khibar Khan Mohmand, district governor of Goshta, has a slightly different version of events.
“Pakistani forces have not expanded onto Afghan soil in their recent attacks on the border areas,” he said. “But they have started some construction in those areas that Pakistan took in 2003 – 2004. There have already been approximately 40,000 Pakistani soldiers engaged in military operations along the Durand Line in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces.”
Something must be done to stop Pakistan from taking more land, he emphasized.
“Pakistan has been building roads in Anar Khil,” added Mohmand. “We have shared this issue with the Nangarhar governor but no action has been taken so far.”
Ahamd Zia Abdulzai, spokesperson for the Governor of Nangarhar, told http://www.bamdaf.af that his office has sent a delegation to the area to investigate the issue and to take appropriate action.
Last year Pakistani forces expanded into Zazi Maidan district in Paktia Province but local residents pushed them back.
“Pakistan has taken many areas in Komar district and has distributed Pakistani ID cards for the residents. Pakistan has taken many areas along the border in Paktika and Kandahar provinces.”
Nader Khan Katawazi, a Member of Parliament from Paktika Province, says that his constituents are facing a similar problem.
“Once upon a time, Angor Dara was a famous area of Afghanistan,” he said. “But now Pakistan has posted its military checkpoints here and is claiming possession. Pakistan has taken many areas in Gomall district and has distributed Pakistani ID cards for the residents. Pakistan has taken many areas along the border in Paktika and Kandahar provinces.”
Pakistan has recently launched missile attacks on Afghan border areas in Goshta, Lal Pur, Shegal, Dankam and Nari districts of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces that have forced many families to leave their homes.
The Afghan President has said that Afghanistan will not retaliate.
“We hope that Pakistan is not provoked to attack Afghanistan, and I hope our people are patient and do not make an emotional decision to do something that would damage our friendly relations,” he said at a press conference last month.
But it is difficult to speak of friendly relations while the attacks continue, and Pakistan expands its control over Afghan territory.