Handling the burden of millions of refugees, disputed border, absconding of militants across a dubious borderline, and with accusations of creating instability in each other’s state of affairs, Pak-Afghan relations have never enjoyed a honeymoon period. There is a complicated history of the border which is still a bone of contention between two states.

Though the Durand Line is accepted as a marked boundary by UN, the Afghan Government on 26 July, 1949, unilaterally declared that it considered the Durand Line an imaginary line and that all previous Durand Line Agreements are therefore invalid. However, Pakistani governments have continuously maintained that the Durand Line is the legal border between the two countries due to international law principle of Uti possidetis juris. It is also opposed by some Afghans that as the Durand Line Agreement spells out respective spheres of influence it was never intended to physically divide the border. However, as per Pakistan stance, Article IV and V of the initial agreement, and later agreements, make it very clear that border was to be demarcated and Afghanistan regularly received subsidies, thereby accepting it as a de-facto border.

Afghan Pashtun elites argue that the line splits up their tribes and that 21st century border management would threaten their way of life. During Partition, Pashtuns were given a limited choice: to join either Pakistan or India.  As a result, time and again, Pashtun leaders have cited the violation of the “right to self-determination” of Pashtuns on both sides to argue against the line’s legitimacy. Today Pashtuns are not only clustered around the Durand Line but they are possibly the largest tribal society in the world, with a population of more than 42 million people in several countries, comprised of an estimated 60 distinct tribes with approximately 400 sub-clans. Even the Pashtuns that live along the Durand Line are organised in many separate tribes and clans, and are not as closely knit as often stated.

Afghanistan being a land-locked country depends on Pakistan for most of its livelihood needs. Thousands of people cross the Chaman and Torkham border points daily, which include legal immigrants, traders, personnel from NGOs and NATO assets. Besides, this hundreds of illegal crossings take place daily using both frequented and unfrequented routes. Apart from giving a place to refugees during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and living in Pakistan for decades, these Afghan nationals are not willing to return to their homes. Pakistan had to pay a huge price for being generous and offering its land to Afghan refugees during hard times. In return it was blessed with gifts of border skirmishes and Taliban insurgents. During the last few year’s terrorist sanctuaries and cross border attacks have emerged as serious issue. The terrorists from TTP are hiding in and operating from their sanctuaries in Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan since 2010. Foreign fighters including Uzbek and Chechen groups also use this less-than-well managed border for penetration into Pakistan and carry out terrorist activities. The presence of Indian Consulates along the border are further contributing towards destabilising Pakistan by providing material and financial support to terrorists and sub-nationalist groups.

Pakistan considers vigilance on border as an effective method to control infiltration of miscreants. Following the traces of Charsadda University attack to kidnapping of two high profile persons from Pakistan, and many other evidences of militant acts in Pakistan, this border was used by terrorists an easy way out to reach Afghanistan. When President Ghani took the charge of his office in Afghanistan, a ray of hope emerged between the two countries for better relations. But with the passage of time, Afghan officials started accusing Pakistan for instability in Afghanistan and particularly named the Haqqani Network from Pakistan for acts of violence in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, the Afghan intelligence agency NDS seems to be a troublemaker, as whenever relations between two neighbours starts restoring a misfortune occurs. With regard to instability in Pak-Afghan relations, border management alone is not the hot debate but US and NATO troop’s presence on Afghan soil, growing Iranian influence and Indo-Iran nexus for Afghanistan in terms of trade and economy and the presence of India’s sympathisers in Afghan government and security agency are enough to topple Pak-Afghan rapports at any time. Pakistan has gone a long way to improve security inside its land from terrorists and simultaneously has always raised voice for regional peace and stability.

On 24 December, 2016, Mr. Latif Pedram, Chairman of National Congress Party of Afghanistan, NCPA, gave a statement about the Durand Line and said that, we had asked many times of Mr. Karzai’s government that if there is legal documents to reference that if any such dispute exists then it should be taken to the International Court of Justice along with valid legal supporting documents. If there is no supportive legal document it won’t be accepted as disputed border. If NCPA comes into power it would accept it as an international boundary. The National Congress Party of Afghanistan, which was formed in 2004, is considered a liberal, secular and multi-ethnic political party in Afghanistan. Latif Pedram, leader of this party openly criticises Hamid Karzai’s government and opponents of the Taliban regimes. Unlike other political parties in Afghanistan, the National Congress of Afghanistan has remained firm and united in their objectives and approach. They advocate an independent, but decentralised Afghanistan, and believe that the country should be divided into autonomous regions under the control of regional capitals. The thoughts and beliefs of Mr. Pedram about the Durand Line seem in favour of better Pak-Afghan relations, as Pakistan wants a trouble free border and relations with Afghanistan, though many concealed powers don’t want long lasting peace.

Pakistan has moved for fencing the border by seeing the sluggish response from Afghan officials in keeping a check on terrorists’ penetration in adjoining areas of border, and later their attempts to carry out any heinous militant act. The only way forward for improved long-term relations between the two states lies in bringing a restoration of the dialogue process, and reaching a final agreement on the Durand Line to be recognised by Afghanistan as an international border. Pakistan looks towards a stable Afghanistan in the future for regional peace and this fencing of the border can be a first step to stop infiltration of extremists causing instability on both sides. Instead of opening old wounds this border screening should be considered a closure of old border hostilities and a canopy of two friendly neighbours sharing rich cultural affinity based on the same religious and humanitarian grounds.