In the wake of a terrorist attack on a Sufi shrine in Sindh, the Pak-Afghan border was closed and the relations between the two neighboring countries plummeted to a new low. However, the recent exchange of high level delegations aroused hopes of normalcy in the strained relations. The border shelling in Chaman along the border has served a severe blow to these overtures. The intractable problems between the two countries have defied solution for the last seven decades. The border management is advocated as panacea for durable peace in the region. Though, we the status of the border is still vehemently contested by the Kabul. In the last four decades, the ground realities have changed remarkably and if taken into account we may find a durable solution for the Pak-Afghan border conflict.

From the outset, the dispute about the status of the dividing line marred the relationship between the two countries. The British drawn Durand line still lies at the heart of the Pak-Afghan conflict. The Afghan government opposes the fencing and other modalities of border management on the basis of this historical claim. Even, the issue of proxies owes its birth to this unresolved boundary line dispute. To counter the Afghan territorial claim, Pakistan resorted to Islamist proxies even before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970s. In the last four decades, the situation on the ground has changed drastically in the Pashtun inhabited areas. The ruling elites on both sides need to take cognisance of these new realities. This will assist them in finding a durable solution for the boundary dispute.

Undoubtedly, Pushtun nationalists enjoyed considerable support on this side of the Durand Line in the beginning of our journey as an independent state. However, the military regime of General Ayub Khan encouraged the induction of Pashtuns into the two powerful state institutions; Civil Service and Pakistan Army. This recruitment drive played an important role in integrating the Pashtuns into the mainstream Pakistan. The nationalist and separatist sentiments in this region were successfully neutralised by giving a fair share to the people of this region in the powerful state institutions. This successful integration of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa can also act as reference material for the present-day turbulent Baluchistan. There were, there are and there will be problems with the centre but the political integration is almost complete. Similarly, in the economic sphere as well, a big chunk of labor force has moved southward for better living. The socio-economic elite of Pashtuns have also developed stronger ties with their counterparts from other ethnic groups. This has further cemented the bond.

As a consequence of this integration into the mainstream, horizontal mobility, relative peace, higher literacy rate, well developed canal system and fertile land, the people of this region have become the cultural and economic elite of the Pashtuns according to Anatol Levien, the author of the book, Pakistan: A Hard Country. According to him, the weight of Pushtun cultural and economic identity lies here: He was in Peshawar for a talk not in Afghanistan. The people of this region will play a key role in shaping the Pushtun identity in future. This thesis can be extended to political domain as well. The birth of the Khudai Khadmatgar movement played a decisive role in heightening the political consciousness among the people here. The role of other political and religious parties in enhancing the political awareness among the people is difficult to be understated.

On the other hand, in war ravaged Afghanistan, the growth of economy, politics, and culture has been stunted by perennial war and destabilisation in the last forty years. As the things stand today, Kabul will fall to Peshawar instead of Peshawar being annexed. This kind of argument goes against the rationale of Afghanistan’s insistence on its territorial claim vis-à-vis Pakistan. The equation on ground has turned upside down and it warrants similar changes in the strategic thinking of Kabul ruling elite. Unless and until, this disparity in the development trajectory persists, the claim of Kabul to be the lever of Pushtun nationalism stands compromised. The earlier this new reality dawns on the Afghan leadership, the better will be the outcome for the people on both sides of the boundary line. In this scenario, the redrawing of Durand Line may have some romantic appeal for the hard wired nationalists on both sides but in pragmatic terms its utility is minimal.

This line of argument should not be construed as a call for erecting a Berlin Wall between the two countries. The modern age is the age of soft borders. Our thinking must also shift from geostrategic to geo-economics. The historical baggage should no more impede our journey to a glowing future. Instead of redrawing the border we must turn it irrelevant through our deep rooted social, historical, religious and cultural ties. These deep rooted ties will definitely gel the two neighbouring states together. I hope, the then Afghan president will feel proud of being called our brotherly neighbour.

The border can become irrelevant if the easy transfer of goods and people across the border is ensured. It will not only decrease the reliance of Pakistan on militants but the true economic potential of this region will be comfortably exploited. We have enough mayhem and violence in this region so far, the peaceful solution of boundary conflict will provide the much needed respite to the devastated millions.

But for this to happen, a shift in the thinking of Rawalpindi and Abpara is a precondition. We will have to bring a paradigm shift in our Afghan policy. As an elder partner in the regional peace and stability, we must not shy away from the confidence building measures as demanded by the Kabul. Instead of supporting militants, we need to have political allies in Kabul. So far it has also been established that our dream of strategic depth is not going to materialise through force. We will have to own Afghans to neutralise the Indian threat in Afghanistan. Though our relations with Afghanistan have always been acrimonious but in the Indo-Pak wars, the Afghans never supported New Delhi. We need to realise the importance of the economic potential of the landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia in the context of Gawadar deep sea port. If we succeed in bringing Central Asia into the CPEC fold, the economic dividends will turn Pakistan into a regional giant.

In case of failure, ISIS like borderless organisations will thrive on both sides of the border. The forty year long spate of violence will never see an end. The well conceived China Pakistan Economic Corridor will hardly achieve the desired objectives in a destabilised regional milieu. For turning the dream project into reality, we need regional stability and regional integration in economic terms.