New Delhi, 21
Guruswamy recently spent a week in Afghanistan and sent us this
Across Pashtun Hearts!
1886 a Russian army fresh from its conquest of the Oasis of Merv, in
today’s Turkmenistan, occupied the Panjdeh Oasis near Herat. It
was also the time of The Great Game. Britain immediately warned
Russia that any further advance towards Herat would be considered as
inimical to British interests. As a consequence of the May 1879
Treaty of Gandamak after the Second Afghan War, Britain took control
of Afghanistan’s foreign affairs. This treaty also gave Britain
control over traditional Pashtun territory west of the Indus
including Peshawar and the Khyber Pass. After the Panjdeh incident a
joint Anglo-Russian boundary commission, without any Afghan
participation, fixed the Afghan border with Turkestan, which was the
whole of Russian Central Asia, now Kirghizistan, Tajikistan,
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Thus as a consequence of the
competition between Britain and Russia, a new country, the
Afghanistan we know today, was created to serve as the buffer.
1893, Sir Mortimer Durand, began work on delineating Afghanistan’s
eastern border with India. The poetess Marya Mannes wrote: “Borders
are scratched across the hearts of men/ by strangers with a calm,
judicious pen/ And when the borders bleed we watch with dread/ the
lines of ink across the map turn red.” The cartographer’s
pen moved nonchalantly across the Pashtun homeland, drawing a new
border disregarding past history, tradition and tribal affinities.
The line ran remorselessly through homes, villages, fields, common
lands and grazing grounds, and dividing tribes and even families.
Thus those whom God hath joined together were put asunder by man.
Olaf Caroe who served in British India’s North-West Frontier
Province (NWFP) from 1916 to 1934, and who was the last British
governor of the NWFP in 1946-47, is also the author of The
Pathans, described as the locus classicus of Pathan
history. Caroe emphatically states that historically Pashtuns/Pathans
and Afghans refer to the same people. The Pashtuns, who live east of
the Durand line live in the mountainous areas and are made up of
tribes such as the Afridis, Orakzais, Shinwaris, Bangash and Turis.
West of the Khyber, in today’s Afghanistan, live the Pashtuns
consisting mainly of two great tribes – the Durranis also known as
Abdalis and the Ghilzais.
1901 the British created the NWFP de-linking Pathan lands from
Punjab. They further divided NWFP into the settled districts that
were directly administered by the British and five autonomous Tribal
Agency areas ruled by local chieftains but with British Agents
keeping an eye on them, as in the Indian princely states. From the
very beginning the Durand Line was not an International Border but a
Line of Control. The Simon Commission Report of 1930 stated quite
explicitly: “British India stopped at the boundary of the
this candid assertion in 1947 the British handed over the five
autonomous Tribal Agencies to Pakistan after sponsoring an
acquiescing tribal jirga. The Afghan government immediately
objected to this stating that the five Tribal Agencies belonged to
the same category as the 562 Indian princely states which were each
given three options of joining India, Pakistan or remaining
independent. But to no avail. Pakistan continued the tradition of
allowing the Tribal Agencies to administer themselves and did not
send any administrators or police or military into the area till it
began sending its military in conjunction with US forces in pursuit
of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.
rule over all the peoples living in this area, which was first
established by Ahmad Shah Abdali later Durrani, devolved upon Amir
Abdur Rahman (1880-1901) when it was created as a buffer state
between the Russian and British empires. Abdur Rahman was
Bismarckian in his methods and used the most ruthless methods to
forge a new nation. In the course of his twenty-year rule of almost
continuous warfare he managed to create an Afghan nation bound by
one law and one rule. He ruled with the help of an annual subsidy of
Rs.1.2 million from the British, which was later raised to Rs.1.8
million in 1893. Lord Curzon who visited Amir Abdur Rahman in 1894
in his winter palace in Peshawar wrote: “No previous Sovereign had
ridden the wild Afghan steed with so cruel a bit, none had given so
large a measure of unity to the kingdom; there was not in Asia or in
the whole world a more fierce or uncompromising despot.”
1901, Abdur Rahman’s son, Habibullah, succeeded him. When he
informed Curzon of his accession, the Viceroy coolly informed him
that the treaty with his father was a “personal” one and that a
new treaty had to be considered. Habibullah responded to this
effrontery by insisting that a new treaty should also acknowledge
his status as the sovereign ruler of Afghanistan and its
“dependencies” quite clearly suggesting that he did not consider
the Durand Line as an international frontier and that it was merely,
in today’s parlance, a line of control (LOC). The British quickly
agreed to resume the subsidy and also pay the arrears. Soon after
the First World War broke out a joint Turkish and German mission
visited Kabul and promised the Amir a huge quantity of arms and 20
million sterling in gold in return for stirring up trouble among the
Muslims in Central Asia and India. Armed with this Habibullah tried
to bargain with the British for his neutrality for return of control
over Afghan foreign policy and “dependencies”. He was
assassinated in February 1919 and not surprisingly the identity of
his assailants was never established.
son Amanullah succeeded Habibullah. In May 1919 Amanullah began what
the Afghans called their “War of Independence”, now generally
called the Third Anglo-Afghan War. Afghan forces crossed the Durand
Line into the NWFP. Tribesmen on both sides of the Durand Line
rallied to the Afghan cause. But the Afghans ran into a new weapon.
Fighter aircraft, dropped bombs on Kabul and Jalalabad and soon the
Afghan appetite for war was somewhat squelched. The Treaty of
Rawalpindi that followed gave the Afghans control over their foreign
affairs but the NWFP remained in British India.
the Civil War that resulted as a result of Amanullah’s attempt to
hurriedly modernize Afghanistan, the British supported Gen. Nadir
Khan who quickly seized Kabul and proclaimed himself the ruler in
1929. But Nadir Khan did not live long and was assassinated in 1933
by a former student of the Amania School, which was the hotbed of
the nationalist movement in Afghanistan. The main objective of this
movement was the recovery of territory across the Durand Line. Zahir
Shah, took over next and ruled till 1973 when his cousin and
brother-in-law, the former Prime Minister Sardar Daoud Khan, ousted
Khan’s son, Zahir Shah, was only 19 when he became King. Though he
reigned, it was his father’s brothers who governed. Some
historians call this the avuncular period. This period ended in 1953
when Daoud Khan, the Kings cousin and brother-in-law took over as
Prime Minister. Daoud Khan was a nationalist committed as much to
the recovery of lost territory as he was to modernizing Afghanistan.
The advent of Daoud also coincided with the advent of John
Foster Dulles who was no less committed to the single-minded pursuit
of the “containment” of the Soviet Union, as Daoud was to the
1954 Pakistan joined the SEATO and CENTO (Baghdad Pact) military
alliances, more to gain military and political support against India
rather than any commitment to US policy of containment. Daoud too
had sought military and economic assistance from the USA. But with
Pakistan as its chosen ally, the USA turned its back on Afghanistan.
Daoud then turned to Russia for assistance. The Cold War in this
remote part of the world now became a confrontation for the recovery
of lost Afghan territories as a result of unequal treaties imposed
September 1960 the irritations manifested into a crisis when
Afghanistan and Pakistan went to war and a year later the Afghan
government snapped diplomatic ties with Pakistan and closed the
border to it. It pushed Afghanistan closer to the Soviet Union and
dependent upon it for essentials like food and energy. It fostered
closeness to Russia that would sow the seeds for the future
Communist takeover of Afghanistan as thousands of civil and military
officials went to the USSR for training and many were converted to
the communist ideology.
disastrous effects of the closed border cost Daoud his job in 1963.
It was ten years for Daoud to come to power again deposing Zahir
Shah. Once again Daoud revived the Pashtunistan issue. The 1971
break up of Pakistan created stirrings for separation in Baluchistan
as well and a training camp for Baluchi fighters was set up in
Kandahar. Bhutto retaliated with bomb blasts in Kabul and Jalalabad.
But Daoud fell out with Russia’s Leonid Brezhnev in 1977 and the
Communists toppled him the following year.
1979 the new Afghan government formally repudiated the Durand Line.
But the Cold War lines were drawn and modern history’s longest
period of continuous war ensued. For the next 23 years Afghanistan
was beset by a cruel and callous war, the like the modern age has
not seen. Afghans are now seeking to determine their own future. But
the Pashtuns still remain a divided people by an arbitrary Line of
Control scratched across the heart of their nation.
the past few weeks Afghan and Pakistani forces now in the Tribal
Agencies ostensibly in pursuit of Al Qaeda, have clashed at various
points along the Durand Line. It is now only a question of time
before the demand for the reunification of all their people becomes
a rallying call for the Pashtun nation. Even the internal dynamics
within now Afghanistan demand it. There is much unfinished business