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    South Asia
     Dec 12, 2006
Page 1 of 5
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" operation.

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 [1], Baloch, North West Frontier Province (NWFP)and Federally Administered Tribal 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." [2] 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". [3] 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 modern Afghanistan.

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 or Pakistan.

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 

Continued 1 2 3 4 5 Back

Time out from a siege (Dec 9, '06)

Rough justice and blooming poppies (Dec 7, '06)

NATO fighting the wrong battle in Afghanistan (Nov 4, '06)


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