Afghan Irredentism and the question of Pashtun and Baluch- By: Faheem Nazimi

Afghanistan is a country located approximately in the centre of Asia, a crossroad between East and West and an ancient focal point for trade and migration. It is in an important geo-political location, connecting South and Central Asia with the Middle East. Ahmad Shah Durrani created the Durrani Empire in 1747, which is considered the beginning of modern Afghanistan and the beginning of the Afghan state. By 1751 he and his Afghan army had conquered what is now present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, the provinces of Khorasan and Kohistan of Iran, along with Delhi in India. During the 19th century, following the Anglo-Afghan wars (1839–1842, 1878-80 and lastly in 1919) and the ascension of the Barakzai Dynasty, Afghanistan saw much of its territory and autonomy ceded to British India. The UK exercised a great deal of influence and it was not until King Amanullah Khan acceded to the throne in 1919 that Afghanistan regained complete and full independence over its foreign affairs. Unfortunately, this was not sustained: during the period of British colonial intervention in Afghanistan, the so-called Durand Line divided ethnic Pashtun territories and Afghanistan was turned into a land-locked country depriving it from access to the sea.
Independence movements that sprang up in the interwar period gained new impetus after the conclusion of the Second World War.
The over stretched empires of Britain, France, the Netherlands and Purtugal crumbled in the face of rising nationalism. India had been promised independence during the Second World War, which was eventually granted in 1947. China achieved genuine unity and independence only after the 1949 communist revolution, having fought an eight –year war against the occupying Japanese. A republic of Indonesia was proclaimed in 1949 after a three-year war against the Netherlands. National struggles in South East Asia inspired similar movements in Africa, with liberation movements emerging under leaders such as Nkrumah, in Ghana, Dr. Azikiwe in Nogeria, Julius Nyerere in Tanganyika, later called Tanzania, and Hastings Banda in Nyasaland ( later Malawi). The pace of decolonization in Africa accelerated from the late 1950s onwards. Nigeria gained Independence from UK in 1960 and Algeria gained independence from French in 1962. Kenya became independence in 1963, as did Tanzania and Malawi the next year (in 1964). Africa’s last remaining colony, South-West Africa, finally became independent Nimibia in 1990.
Unfortunately in 1947, as throwback to the independence momentum that had built up, contradicting the international move for independence by all colonies under occupation that gained their independence, the Pastun and Baloch not only not gained their independence from the British raj, but came under renewed occupation and became colonized by the British progeny Pakistan. . In fact, during the July 1947 referendum, the Pashtuns of the North- West Frontier Province were given no choice except to join India or Pakistan. The Afghan government contested this procedure and right from 1947, the Pakistanis and the Afghans have been engaged in a veritable covert war, which the form, among other things, of vigorous propaganda and on the Pakistani side, of the systematic sabotaging of Afghan goods being transited to the Indian Ocean.
The call for an independent Pashtunistan basically provided the Afghan government with an opportunity to denounce 1893 treaty. On the 21 June 1947, the Afghan prime minister Shamamud Khan, declared: If an independent Pashtunistan cannot be set up, the frontier province should join Afghanistan. Our neighbour will realize that our country with its population and trade needs an outlet to the sea. This denunciation of the Durand line, implicit in the declaration of the Afghan prime minister, was fundamental to the affirmation of Afghan irredentism, whose territorial claims extended up to the Indian Ocean.
In effect, while for the Pashtuns living in Pakistan the word Pashtunistan encompassed just the present NWFP, for the Afghan government of the time, it covered a much larger area made up of the same NWFP and Baluchestan.
From the Afghan government viewpoint , the very concept of ‘Pashtunistan’ when an Afghan state already existed, was a tragic admission of the fact that 125 years of foreign occupation, and the unjust Durand line, had divided the Pushtun people into two units, despite their cultural, historical, linguistic, geographic oneness.
But, in the years that followed, the Pashtun question became a veritable abscess, turning into a fixation that prevented any normalization of relations between the countries.
In 1947, King Zahir shah sent a special envoy to Karachi to meet Jinnah. On his return to Kabul, he affirmed:
1) that the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan would be made into ‘sovereign’,
2) that Pakistan would give Afghanistan access to the sea, either by creating an Afghan corridor in West Baluchistan, or through the grant of an ‘Afghan free trade zone’ in Karachi,
3) that Pakistan and Afghanistan would sign a treaty under which each would remain neutral in case the other was attacked( which amounted to an attitude of benevolent neutrality vis –a-vis India). Unfortunately President Jinah’s successors went back on all this and the agreement was adhered to by Pakistan.
During the last two centuries the ideologies, nature, causes, and means of both
external invaders and Afghan rulers have varied. However, the nonconformist
approach of the nation vis-à-vis different great powers has remained constant. Often great powers have imposed their proxy wars on Afghanistan and many times undermined the very survival of this country. For its independence and survival, Afghanistan has fought wars against great powers, and simultaneously made endeavors to develop strategic partnership with them. During the last two centuries, Afghanistan experienced a very volatile relationship with them. However, its relationship with the US is relatively different as compared to, Russia and Great Britain.
Notwithstanding the long distance, Afghanistan has always yearned to have a cordial relationship with the US. However, generally it has failed in this quest in the past. The first formal contact by Afghanistan with the US was strengthened when Muhammad Wali Khan, the Prime Minister of Afghanistan, went to Tashkent in 1922 to participate in an International Peace Conference, as head of Afghan delegation. He at that time talked to the US President Harding on the phone expressing his government’s desire to strengthen bilateral relations. Later he went to the USA in July 1922, again leading another Afghan delegation. This time he met President Harding and handed over a letter to him from King Amanullah Khan.
Afterwards, Prime minister Shah Mahmood Khan, (1948 to 1951), visited the USA
soliciting economic and military aid, but he only obtained limited aid in the
educational and agricultural spheres.
When Daoud Khan became Prime Minister of Afghanistan, he also pursued close military ties with the US, but inDecember1953, the latter announced military aid for Pakistan. Pakistan later became a member of the US military alliance SEATO. Daoud tried various other channels in order to attract US military aid, but faced utter frustration. It was difficult for the USA to maintain a balance between the two regional rivals. The USA adopted a policy not to give any kind of aid to any country, which had a border dispute with Pakistan.
The relation between the USA and Afghanistan touched its lowest ebb when US
Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles handed over some of Afghanistan’s military requirement lists to Mr. Muhammad Ali, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington. The aid lists contained all details of the military equipments requested by Afghanistan. In 1954, US President, Richard Nixon came to Kabul. He was warmly welcomed but once again, the USA turned down the Afghan demand for military and economic aid. The USA provided very limited aid for a rehabilitation project in Helmand only. In the same year, SEATO, of which the USA was also a member, formalized the controversial and disputed Durand Line as an international boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This move forced Afghanistan to look for help from the USSR instead of the west. SEATO was dissolved in 1977.
Successive Afghan government has refused to recognize the Durand Line as the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. All Afghan governments, including the Pak-supported Taliban regime, have resisted all moves by Pakistan to formalise the Durand Line. According to former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaif, during the Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001, Pakistan tried three times to formalize the border, but was unsuccessful on each occasion.

The recent decision by Pakistan to start fencing the border, and resultant cross-border firing by Afghan forces, is a continuation of this process. As long as this demarcation, which was initially drawn to mark areas of influence rather than as an international border, is given sanctity by the international community, Pakistan will continue to play its own ‘great game’ in this area, even if it is at the cost of peace in the region. It is high time to revisit the Durand Line. Baloch struggle for independence continued from 1973 to 1977 resulted in 3300 Pakistani soldiers and 5,300 Baluchi freedom fighters killed. The autonomy of the province of Baluchistan was at stake which-though it accounted for only 4% of the total population of Pakistan-represented almost 40% of the national territory and contained most of its mineral wealth. The Pashtuns of NWFP did not however join the struggle. Iran, worried about a possible spill-over of the conflict into his territory, sent clear signals to the Afghan government by dispatching in 1974, at the height of the fighting, some helicopters and Iranian pilots to help the Pakistan Army control the situation, thus the movement and the uprising was sadly crushed. The artificial state of Pakistan is determined to dominate Afghanistan as its vassal. Gen. Zia is on record for having dreamt of Pakistan domination across Central Asia. His legacy very much remains alive today. Pakistan has burned its bridges too much to drop their Taliban puppets and trust Afghanistan rising above her vulnerabilities.

Pakistan will continue to interfere and destabilize areas across the Durand Line, with the objective of retaining control over it as it borders Afghanistan.
The September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centre in New York was a wake-up call for the West to revisit its policy. Instead, they decided to send their troops to counter militants and allowed roots of the problem to fester.
Since 2001, thousands of U.S. and European troops have lost their lives in Afghanistan and will continue to do so as long as we choose to bury our heads in the sand. While accepting billions of American dollars in military and economic aid, Pakistan has been slowly bleeding the U.S. to death in Afghanistan through its support of the Taliban, Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups.
It is Pakistan’s role to force the U.S. and NATO out of Afghanistan to pave the way for regional dominance of its closest ally, China.
China is, quite literally, colonizing Pakistan.
Through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China aims to connect Asia, the Middle East and Africa through land-based and maritime economic zones as part of China’s global ambition to overtake the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower.
One element of that effort is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an infrastructure and development project, the backbone of which is a transportation network connecting China to the Pakistani seaports of Gwadar and Karachi located on the Arabian Sea.
Restive Afghanistan has the potential of adversely affecting the security and stability of its neighborhood and the world at large. Maintaining that relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have deteriorated sharply over the years. The incident of May 7 at the Chaman border in Balochistan, when firing by the Pakistan Army resulted in the death of Afghan soldiers.
Afghanistan has always viewed the Durand Line as an artificial border imposed on them by the British colonial rulers of India. The Durand Line was an attempt by British India to secure for itself strategic depth and a buffer against Russian advances into the Indian subcontinent through Afghanistan.
This artificial border drawn by the British in 1893 resulted in the formal cessation of vast tracts of what is now Balochistan and Pashtun-dominated areas belonging to Afghanistan to British India.
During the last days of the British colonial rule, the Pashtuns residing on the British Indian side of the Durand Line, led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as ‘Frontier Gandhi’, opposed the creation of Pakistan. Pashtun identity is driven by nationalism rather than religion and hence was not able to come to terms with the idea of a ‘Muslim’ Pakistan. However, when it became clear that the British rulers would not agree to the Pashtun demand for accession to India, they demanded Pakhtunistan instead, a separate homeland for the Pashtuns, a demand supported by Afghanistan. Britain was, however, keen to create a strong Pakistan, and hence, unwilling to undo the historical injustice that the Durand Line represented. Thus, the Pashtun-dominated North Western Frontier Province (NWPF) became a part of Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan’s occupation of the Pashtun dominated tribal areas and Baluchistan is illegal, because these areas have never been part of the British India therefore can never be automatically inherited by Pakistan. Sir More Timor Durand himself attests to this in his interview in Asiatic Quarterly Journal in India following the signing of the agreement with Amir of Afghanistan. He said: “The tribes on the Indian side are not to be considered as within British territory. They are simply under our influence in the technical sense of the term, that is to say, so far as the Amir is concerned and as far as they submit to our influence or we exert.”
Afghanistan’s division by foreign secretary Mortimer Durand in 1893 was a mistake, compounded by London’s decision to hand over the British ‘sphere of influence’ to Pakistan in 1947. Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan asked in the Constituent Assembly in March 1948: ‘Is Pathan the name of a country or that of a community?’ Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan replied: ‘…the people of India used to call us Pathans and we are called Afghans by the Persians. Our real name is Pakhtoon. We want Pakhtoonistan and want to see all the Pathans on this side of the Durand Line joined and united together in Pakhtoonistan.’
Successive Afghan governments have refused to recognize the Durand Line as the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Pakistan has done everything possible to preserve the status quo, not allowing a strong government in Afghanistan, capable of challenging the validity of the existing border, assisting its proxies set up the government in Kabul and limiting the influence of countries like the U.S, Russia or India, which could pose a challenge to its domination. The Pashtun and Baloch areas have been deliberately neglected within Pakistan, promoting infighting among these ethnic groups, and reducing them to being mere recruiting grounds for militants, thereby enabling Islamabad to maintain its strategic relevance in the region. However, all Afghan governments, including the Pak-supported Taliban regime, have resisted all moves by Pakistan to formalize the Durand Line.
According to former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaif, during the Taliban’s rule between 1996 and 2001, Pakistan tried three times to formalize the border but was unsuccessful on each occasion.
The recent decision by Pakistan to start fencing the border, and resultant cross-border firing by Afghan forces, is a continuation of this process.
Pakistan security agencies in an effort to maintain its strategic depth in Afghanistan have used terror groups as proxies to keep the country unstable and weak. Instability along this border has led to a situation where the Pakistani state has lost effective control of its western border, allowing local tribesmen to easily cross back and forth between the two countries.
As long as this demarcation, which was initially drawn to mark areas of influence rather than as an international border, is given sanctity by the international community, Pakistan will continue to play its own ‘great game’ in this area, even if it is at the cost of peace in the region.
The U.S. and other Western countries have perpetuated this historical mistake, or more precisely the historical mischief, committed by British colonial rulers by dividing the Pashtun homeland, in recent years for their strategic interests.
Over the years, the effect of instability prevailing on both sides of the Durand line is no longer limited to the region, has now spilled over also the western world.
Continuous flows of Afghan refugees into Europe and terrorist incidents with links to the Af-Pak region are the consequences.
Baluchistan and portions of the Pashtun-dominated tribal areas of Pakistan that were forcefully taken away and merged into British India need to be restored to their earlier status as the sovereign territory of Afghanistan. Historians who have examined the original documents claim that it was not a treaty and thus irreversible, but an agreement. In fact, Rahman Khan expressed many concerns about it and would not initial the map upon which the line was demarcated. During the 1988 Accords that brought an end to the war with the Soviets, Pakistan attempted to permanently demarcate the Durand Line as part of the Accords. This, of course, was legal legerdemain and exposed the illegality of the original demarcation and Pakistan’s dishonesty at fixing the line as a boundary for all eternity. I have no doubt that with international cooperation this could be overturned.
In short, our aims must be the defeat of terrorism and its allies, the elimination of spawning grounds for terrorism in the region and the emergence of a greater Afghanistan as a free, democratic country with a rapidly growing sustainable economy. In order to achieve this common goal, a brand new outlook and strategy is required for Afghanistan. Securing Gowadar port, Quetta city and the surrounding areas of Waziristan by stopping Pakistan’s involvement with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and Dayesh and other terrorist groups through stretching full legal territorial integrity of Afghanistan from Amu Darya to the Indus and the Arabian sea, is paramount. The support of the Pashtun and Baloch tribes fighting for their independence from Punjab in the occupied lands will be guaranteed and so will be therefore their freedom and independence. At present, after 16 years of fighting the U.S. and its allies are nowhere near any substantial victory and are teetering on the edge of the abyss of total failure and disaster. A non-ideological political system plus full-fledged territorial integrity ensuring access to the sea for Afghanistan is essential and pre requisite to the total defeats of terrorism its allies and the ultimate accolade for the U.S. and its allies in the region. Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan can be a good prelude, but will only succeed If the political geography is transformed in favor of Afghanistan and Baluchistan as is due long time ago by dismantling the old colonial, disputed line of Durand, undoing the injustice by freeing the Baloch and Pashtuns from Punjani occupation, putting an end to the travesty of the 21st Century through the mobolization of the Pashtuns on either sides of the so called ‘Durand line’ as a counter force to the current menace of Islamic extremism/ terrorism. Unless we destroy safe havens and training centers and terrorist hideouts in Pakistan proper and dislodge them from the areas along the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and defeat them in the battle fields in Afghanistan and secure the resupply routes for the US forces by ensuring a free access to the sea for a greater Afghanistan, we will always remain under Pakistan duress and at the receiving end of the destructive blows and final end state a loser. We need to act quickly before it is too late. The End

Selected Bibliography:
– A Cultural and Historical history of Afghanistan by Thomos Barfield
– Pakistan-Afghanistan relation and the question of Pashtun by: Fredrec Gareg
– The Durand-land by: Bruce Richardson author of many books on Afghanistan
– SPEECH BY: European Parliament (EP) Vice President Henry Ryszard Czarnecki
– Information based on British Library documents


  • The author is a political analyst based in Kabul.

Categories: Articles,‌Baluchistan

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