Friday December 02, 2022

Naming the line

September 13, 2017

There is no Durand Line. Durand Line finished with the cancellation of the Durand Treaty. And thereafter the complexion, significance and designation of the border have changed. It may be pertinent to call it the Aman Line as it was Amir Amanullah Khan who made it an international permanent border.

Continuously harping on the Durand Line amounts to feeding the propaganda mill of those who want permanent hostility between Pakistan and Afghanistan. International actors also sadly sometimes contribute to these tension-ridden relations for their own benefit. One must go to history to find out the reality.

The border was not described in the Durand Treaty as the boundary of India, but as the eastern and southern frontiers of the Amir’s dominions, and the limits of the respective spheres of influence of the two governments, the object being the extension of British authority, and not that of the Indian frontier. The British also considered the Durand Treaty that was concluded with Amir Abdul Rahman to be ‘personal’. After the death of the iron Amir, Viceroy Lord Curzon invited his son and successor, Amir Habibullah Khan, to Rawalpindi to sign a new treaty.

The new Amir refused to come to sign a new treaty, saying that he was abiding by the pledges and commitments made by his father and that the treaty concluded by him was sufficient to conduct Afghanistan’s affairs with India. The viceroy responded that the treaty (Durand Treaty) was personal and not dynastic; therefore, he had to sign a new treaty. In order to bear pressure upon the Amir, the viceroy withheld the payments of subsidies and prevented the arms deliveries to Afghanistan.

Therefore, the Amir was compelled to invite British representative Sir Louis Dane to Afghanistan, and signed a new document in 1905 in which he merely confirmed the arrangements made with his father. In this way, the talks about the treaty being time-bound, signed under duress etc are spurious and void of mark.

The character of the Durand Line remained constant till Amir Habibullah was alive. It was never considered the de jure international border. Amanullah Khan, the third son, assumed power with the help of the army at Kabul after the assassination of his father, Amir Habibullah Khan, in Laghman (some say with his secret connivance), on February 20, 1919. Amanullah Khan subsequently arrested and executed his popular anti-British uncle Sardar Nasrullah Khan who briefly had been installed as successor at Jalalabad.

In order to boost his shaky government and shed the hangover of his popular uncle’s execution, Amanullah declared a jihad of independence in May 1919 against British India under the impression that the war-weary Indian troops wouldn’t be able to resist the onslaught. But he was mistaken. The war turned into a nightmare for him and the Indian troops advanced, seizing Dhaka on the Jalalabad front and advancing toward Kandahar seizing Spin Buldak. The cities of Jalalabad and Kandahar were bombed. Only some meagre gains were made in Kurram.

Panicking, Amanullah sued for peace after a brief war of one month. After the ceasefire of June 3, 1919, negotiations began at Rawalpindi between an Afghan mission headed by Ali-A?mad Khan, commissary for home affairs, and the British delegation headed by Sir A H Grant, foreign secretary to the government of India. So the armistice or peace treaty was signed on August 8, 1919. The key point of the letter attached as an annexure to the Treaty of Peace 1919, written by the chief British representative at the Indo-Afghan Peace Conference to the chief Afghan representative, clearly stated that the said treaty and that letter left Afghanistan officially free and independent in its internal and external affairs. And, moreover, the war had cancelled all previous treaties.

This letter was written by the Sir Hamilton Grant in response to the concern raised by the chief Afghan representative regarding the status of the previously signed treaties. Thus, with the conclusion of the Third Anglo-Afghan War and the signing of the Anglo-Afghan treaty of Rawalpindi to restore peace, all previous treaties and agreements (1809, 1855, 1857, 1879, 1893, 1905) stood cancelled. Common sense dictates that when two sides, whether families, groups, tribes or countries, fight against each other and when peace is restored, then all previous accords, in whatever shape they may be, stand cancelled and a new understanding or agreement is concluded between the sides. This is what happened after the Third Anglo-Afghan war initiated by Afghanistan.

The 1919 treaty of peace was further transformed into a treaty of friendship and for establishment of commercial relations in November, 1921. The second article of the said treaty does not refer to the Durand Treaty but states: “The Two High Contracting Parties accept the Indo-Afghan frontier as accepted by the Afghan Government under Article V of the Treaty concluded at Rawalpindi on 8th August 1919, corresponding to the 11th Ziqada 1337 Hijra …” Afterwards, the Durand Line or Durand agreement became just an empty talking show vitiating the atmosphere.

The point is further cleared by the fact that when on the eve of Partition, Afghanistan raised the issue of Afghan irredentism, the British never referred to the Durand Treaty, but to the treaty of 1921 signed with a sovereign Afghan king of independent Afghanistan. Immediately after Partition, to solidify its stand the British referred the matter to independent legal experts (Confidential 17389, Nov 5, 1947, Copy No 161) purporting that Afghans might be invoking the legal doctrine of rebus sic stantibus (things thus standing) like the British rule in India. The Afghan claim was summarily dismissed as illegal by the experts.

It would be advisable for policymakers and media pundits to refer to the ‘Durand Line’ as the Aman or Amanullah Line. Because it was King Amanullah Khan who, due to his reckless policy of starting the Third Anglo-Afghan War, had paved the way for the transformation of the Durand Line into an international boundary.