Page 1 of 5 SPEAKING FREELY All along the watch tower
By Peter J Middlebrook and Sharon M Miller
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Five years after US coalition forces commenced Operation Enduring Freedom, the
steadily rising tide of insurgency in southern Afghanistan and northern
Pakistan continues to bedevil
the beleaguered international stabilization effort.
In the presence of a heavily contested border between the two countries, and
given that the current International Security Assistance Force/North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (ISAF/NATO) operation simply cannot succeed in the absence
of a parallel route of political diplomacy, there is an urgent need to reassess
the entire direction of the current "peacekeeping" and "counter-insurgency"
The paper argues that while the Durand Line agreement is no longer considered a
contentious issue between the current de jure Afghan and Pakistan states, the
continued existence of political discontent between their sub-national Pashtun
, Baloch, North West Frontier Province (NWFP)and Federally Administered
Area (FATA) interest groups continues to usurp the rule of law and undermine
the effectiveness of border management controls.
In the absence of a legally recognized and enforceable border management
agreement, it is therefore impossible for the international community to
apportion responsibility for the lack of effective state control over the
insurgency, terrorism, narcotics and smuggling; a situation which must surely
be unacceptable to the United Nations, the United States and the United
Kingdom. The failure to address the root causes, not just the effects, of
historical discontent must therefore remain the central tenet of a
yet-to-commence state to sub-state reconciliation and peace process.
Ahead of the NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] summit in Riga, Latvia
on November 28-29, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke of the need for
"transformatory diplomacy". Given the significance of the Afghan-Pakistan-India
axis for the structure of the new world order, meeting the challenges presented
by the Afghan-Pakistan border crisis provides an important test case for NATO's
muscle outside of Europe.
As British Prime Minister Tony Blair correctly stated during his trip to
Afghanistan on November 20, "Here in this extraordinary piece of desert is
where the fate of world security in the early 21st century is going to be
decided."  A body such as a Border Commission, mediated by the UN, is
urgently required to work towards reconciling fundamental grievances with
regard to legal sovereignty, and thereby allowing ISAF/NATO to provide support
to a process of reconciliation and peacekeeping.
The Afghan-Pakistan insurgency currently bears all the hallmarks of a
transboundary civil war; and one that risks undermining the stability of the
entire length of the Afghan-Pakistan-Indian border.
Reconciliation efforts must focus on overcoming the limitations of the Durand
Line "Disagreement", as they continue to obscure Baloch, Pashtun, North West
Frontier Province and Federal Administered Tribal Area "status" issues in the
process; up to and including Kashmir.
In the absence of such an approach, the legacies caused by the contraction of
British India and the ill-fated partition of India and Pakistan risk becoming
the defining Achilles' heel of the entire stabilization effort. Given the
waning influence of Anglo-American interests in Central Asia, up to and
including Kazakhstan, failure to consolidate the Afghan-Pakistan-Indian border
could trigger a strategic realignment of political interests away from the
West, towards the north. Under such a situation, and given the geopolitical
proximity of Iran and its growing relationship with China, this would have
profound implications for the Middle East too.
This paper argues the need for the formal adoption of a Afghanistan-Pakistan
Border Agreement to address the issues that the Durand Agreement did not and
could not; largely due to the interface between British and Russian Imperialism
at the end of the last century and the co-existence of local discontentment
between rival ethnic and political interests. In the absence of a tenable peace
and reconciliation process, the work of the Tripartite Commission, while
important, is stop-gap at best.
Clearly in the absence of political reconciliation involving all factions of
the current disagreement, ISAF/NATO will be unable to "work to resolve conflict
and reduce tension within Afghanistan, focused on the holistic defeat of the
residual insurgency".  In highlighting the limitations of the current
stabilization agenda, this article (i) draws lessons from British policy
towards Afghanistan at the turn of the century (iii) documents the underlying
causes of political discontent; and (iii) concludes with a number of
recommendations aimed at overcoming the current impasse.
What is the problem?
That the Durand Line is now considered a legal international border is not in
doubt, and a detailed topographic map was attached to the 1839 Durand Agreement
whose demarcation followed logical watershed and mountainous features. The
agreement itself was also concluded without a 100-year sunset clause, despite
the claims of many Afghan scholars to the contrary. However, following the
decline of the Durrani Empire, the rise of British and Russian empires during
the Great Game of the 1800s, and British failures to consolidate a forward
policy that included much of Afghanistan, the British therefore concluded a
border agreement with the head of the Afghan state (Amir Abdul Rahman) to
delineate the outer extent of the British Empire from the southern extent of
With the contraction of the British Empire, and the creation of modern India
and Pakistan, the Durand Line was therefore inherited as the northern border of
the new Pakistan; albeit after conflict with the Baloch. However, the
pre-existence of powerful opposition to the agreement was probably ignored for
reasons of state, but continued to fester.
In fact, during the period of Russian occupation the funding of the mujahideen
by Western interests, and utilization of opium as a source of war revenue, only
exacerbated local grievances. Today, communities continue to see the line as
imaginary, but as these communities are now represented by powerful political
groups that do not formally accept the sovereign position of either Afghanistan
The hinterland that divides these states has therefore remained a haven for
insurgency, terrorism, drugs trafficking and political discontent. In the
absence of a border agreement ratified by all