Divided homeland

Why the Pashtuns have not been able to settle down

Published - October 14, 2017 07:34 pm IST

Durand’s Curse: A Line Across the Pathan Heart
Rajiv Dogra

Durand’s Curse: A Line Across the Pathan Heart Rajiv Dogra Rupa ₹595

The Pashtun population falls like an overwhelming shadow over the map of present day Pakistan and Afghanistan, that shaped these two countries and the rest of modern South Asia. The homeland of the enterprising and brave Pashtuns, from the borders of the Punjab to parts of Balochistan and south-southeastern Afghanistan, is divided by the powerful destiny-shaping Durand line.

Named after Sir Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of imperial India, who in 1893 drew a line over the Hindu Kush and the western Himalayas as the Amir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman, consented. The line is one of the lasting imperial legacies of South Asia. Since then, this invisible yet powerful cartographical reality has defined the westernmost frontier of undivided India and formed the core of the Afghanistan-Pakistan territorial issues.

Rajiv Dogra, former diplomat and an expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan, has written a comprehensive account of the origin, problems of the Durand Line and indicates the way ahead. The impact of the Durand Line is best summed by the comment from Wali Khan that Dogra has recounted. When asked about his identity, Wali Khan, son of legendary ‘Frontier Gandhi’, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, said, he was, “a six-thousand year-old Pashtun, a thousand-year-old Muslim and a twenty-seven year-old Pakistani.”

In one sweep, Dogra has covered the history of the negotiations of Durand to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies and the continued war on terror that rages across the Durand that Pakistan considers legitimate and Afghanistan wants to erase.

The line has caused continued friction between Kabul and Islamabad. Though a multi-ethnic society, Afghanistan has been dominated by the Pashtuns and a long line of Pashtun leaders like President Babrak Karmal to President Hamid Karzai have advocated the cause of the Pashtun homeland that was separated by the line.

The Durand Line was born as the outcome of a felt need to define the British frontier in South Asia.

In the 21st century, given the continued violence in Afghanistan, the line has failed to consolidate the Pashtun identity as it has failed to secure a sense of homeland among the Pashtuns who continue to scatter around the world as a fallout of the post-9/11 world disorder.

However, the Durand Line is not always a curse as it has contained Pakistan’s territorial identity though it also left the idea of a Pashtun/Pathan homeland unrealised.

In a positive sense, the Durand Line also provides India with a reason to raise a red flag every time ‘cross border’ attacks are carried out by Pakistan-based elements against Afghanistan.

Dogra has written a biography of a cartographical creation that was long awaited. The book is a must read.

Durand’s Curse: A Line Across the Pathan Heart ; Rajiv Dogra, Rupa, ₹595.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.