Posted by: Christian | January 30, 2008

Go West, Young Durand Line, Go West

January 30, 2008.

The Durand Line, for those of you not in the know, is the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Funnily enough, it seems to be moving westward. Kip, a new blogger over at Abu Muqawama, discusses the amazing mobile border:

Over the course of a decade, Pakistan has moved that border westward (also discussed by Ahmed Rashid as part of Pakistan’s pursuit of strategic depth). What defines the border now is no artificial Durand line but rather high ground and “key terrain,” all held, of course, by Pakistani forces. The response of Coalition countries has been to ignore this and tell the Afghan government to stop complaining about Pakistan and focus on its own problems. Tactically, however, this has made it even more difficult for the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Border Police, and Coalition Forces to prevent massive insurgent infiltration into Afghanistan.

Pic: The Durand Line is now somewhere on this map, moving around in a Manifest Destiny manner.

Durand Line

Of course, many Afghans are quite unhappy about this:

Moreover, the illegal seizure of Afghan territory (technically, by the way, an act of war) prevents more effective cooperation between Afghan and Pakistani forces as the premise for discussing cooperation from the Pakistani side rests on the border “as is” rather than “as it is marked on the map.” No good Afghan officer is going to cede Afghanistan’s territory to promote better communication, a fence here or there, and perhaps a little combined patrolling.

What does this mean for counterinsurgency efforts?

Pakistan’s illegal seizure of Afghan land ensures ease-of-access from Pakistan-based, militant safe havens. This ensures a near-continuous supply of foreign and Pashtun fighters from the madrassas and both tribal and Al Qaeda networks to fuel the insurgency and kill Americans. Congress got upset enough about Musharraf’s anti-democracy crackdown that they almost, sort-of threatened to withhold money from Pakistan. Perhaps the next time we are going to give Musharraf untold amounts of money to spend on building defenses against India in support of anti-terrorism efforts, would it be too much to ask for our Pakistani “allies” to move to their side of the border in order to get access to some of that money?

“Kip,” a US Army officer who has served extensively in Afghanistan, writes about this issue within the broader context. Read the whole post here.

So the big bully Pakistan is taking land from poor, peace-loving Afghanistan? Well, sort of. It’s complicated. What’s worth mentioning is that the are more than a few Pashtun nationalists in Afghanistan who hope for a united Pashtunistan, if they can just take all that Pashtun land from Pakistan.

Pic: This is Pashtunistan. I hope the Baluchis, Nuristanis, Pashai and Dardic people do not see this.


One of the things that Pakistan wants is for Afghanistan to recognize the Durand Line. Afghanistan has, throughout history, refused to do so. This habit has continued into the Karzai administration. So you can see why Pakistan, which is under some debatable threat of state failure and disintegration, is so sensitive about the issue. And more than a few non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan are not to psyched about the prospect of being in a state with 11 million additional Pashtuns. In fact, the newly formed United National Front (not just another lame-o new political party) has called for official recognition of the border. (The party does have Pashtun members though). More on that party here.

Pic: The United National Front, as caricatured by Matt Weems. The guy holding the handle bars is Rabbani, Qanuni is above him, Dostum is on the top left reaching his hand out to smack someone (or high-five), bottom right is Ismael Khan, above him is Gulabzoy (rocking the Commie hat) and the late Mustafa Kazemi (who was killed in the Baghlan suicide bombing) is on the bottom left.

United National front

Anyways, I promise to fully analyze the Pashtunistan/Durand Line issue at some time in the future instead of just stealing stuff from Abu Muqawama.


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