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Backgrounder: The Troubled Afghan-Pakistani Border

Council on Foreign Relations

Author: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer

November 29, 2007


Afghanistan shares borders with six countries, but the approximate 1500-mile-long Durand Line along Pakistan remains the most dangerous. Kabul has never recognized the line as an international border, instead claiming the Pashtun territories in Pakistan that comprise the Federally Administered Tribal Lands (FATA) and parts of North West Frontier Province along the border. Incidents of violence have increased on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the last year. Various reports in late 2007 showed militants gaining ground inside Pakistan and their influence has now spread to areas beyond the FATA. Similarly, in Afghanistan, violence has peaked since the ouster of the Taliban six years ago with a worrisome increase in suicide attacks.

Historical Conflict

The region that is today known as Afghanistan was long torn by ethnic and tribal rivalries. It started evolving as a modern state in the early nineteenth century when the British East India Company began expanding in the northwest of British-held India. This was also the time of the “great game”—the geopolitical struggle between the British and the Russian empires. The British held the Indian subcontinent while the Russians held the Central Asian lands to the north. Their spheres of influence overlapped in Afghanistan. Britain, concerned about Russian expansion, invaded Afghanistan in 1839 and fought the First Anglo-Afghan War. This led to a decade of machinations between the British and the Russians and two more bloody wars, at the end of which in 1919, Afghanistan won its independence.

Durand Line

The Durand Line is named after British Foreign Secretary Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, who demarcated the frontier between British India and Afghanistan in 1893. The line was drawn after negotiations between the British government and Afghan King Abdur Rahman Khan, founder of modern Afghanistan.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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