The Pashtunistan Issue

The Pashtunistan Issue

Amir Abdur Rahman had bitterly resented the Durand Line and none of hissuccessors relinquished the notion of Pashtun unity even as they cooperated withthe British government on other matters. Eventually, the line dividing thePashtun people became extremely contentious to the governments of bothAfghanistan and Pakistan.

Although the issue became most vexing during partition, British policy in thearea before 1947 also aggravated the Pashtunistan problem. In 1901 the Britishhad created a new administrative area, the North-West Frontier Province, whichthey detached from the Punjab. This new province was divided into SettledDistricts and Tribal Agencies, with the latter ruled by a British politicalagent who reported directly to Delhi.

In 1934 Britain extended self-government to the North-West Frontier Province.By this time, the Indian National Congress (Congress Party), which many Muslimssaw as a predominately Hindu organization, had expanded its political activitiesto include the province. The links between the political leaders of theNorth-West Frontier Province and the Hindu leaders of Congress were such that amajority in the North-West Frontier Province assembly originally voted to gowith India in the partition, a decision which probably would have been rejectedby the voting majority in the province. In July 1947, the British held areferendum in the Settled Districts of the province offering the population thechoice of either joining an independent India or a now-inevitable Pakistan. Anestimated 56 percent of the eligible voters participated and over 90 percentelected to join Pakistan. A loya jirgah was held in the Tribal Agencies. Offereda choice between joining India or Pakistan, the tribes declared their preferencefor the latter.

Although both Afghanistan and Pakistan made conciliatory gestures, the matterremained unresolved. In one of the government's attempts to suppress tribaluprisings in 1949, a Pakistani air force plane bombed a village just across thefrontier. In response, the Afghan government called a loya jirgah, whichpromptly declared that it recognized "neither the imaginary Durand nor anysimilar line" and that all agreements--from the 1893 Durand agreementonward--pertaining to the issue were void. Irregular forces led by a localPashtun leader crossed the border in 1950 and 1951 to back Afghan claims.Pakistan's government refused to accept the Afghan assertion that it had nocontrol over these men, and both nations' ambassadors were withdrawn, but wereexchanged again a few months later.

The issue of an international boundary through Pashtun areas was of greatimportance to policymakers in Kabul. Pakistan halted vital transshipments ofpetroleum to Afghanistan for about three months in 1950, presumably inretaliation for Afghan tribal attacks across the border. At this time, Afghangovernment interest shifted to offers of aid from the Soviet Union and in July1950 it signed a major agreement with the Soviet Union.

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