Sardar Daud Khan began his presidency in 1973, undoubtedly, extremely passionate about the Pashtunistan issue, establishing himself as “the main exponent of Pakhtunistan” (Razvi, 1971, p.163). He was perceived as the most serious hard liner among the Afghan leaders. However, Daud displayed a U-turn with regards to his policy on the issue towards the end of his rule. His change in attitude signified a major step towards settling the conflict. A chance for settlement appeared but unfortunately, Daud was overthrown before he could get a chance to adopt his conciliatory attitude.
Daud wasted no time in confirming his position towards Pakistan. Early in his presidency he stated in a speech “Pakistan is the only country with which we still have a political difference, the question of Pashtunistan” (Mukerjee, 1975, p.304). Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s response to this was to denounce the Daud’s new regime as anti Pakistan (Ghaus, 1988, p.110). The emergence of Daoud was an important factor in prompting Bhutto to take strong measures against Pashtun and Baluchi apprisals. There were only two options for Daud, Pashtunistan should be an independent country or should unite with Afghanistan (Lesniewska, 2002, p.7).
Daud tried to enlist the support of China for the Pashtunistan cause and “for some time it appeared as though Afghanistan has replaced India as the major threat to Pakistan’s security” (Misra, 1981). In the meantime, Pakistan took advantage of those not familiar with the matter by trying to convince them that Afghanistan was aiming to dismember Pakistan with the help of the Soviet Union and was using the Pashtunistan myth to cover this up (Ghaus, 1988, p.148).
A major obstacle that prevented direct talks was Pakistan’s refusal to recognise the existence of a political difference between the two, which for the Afghans concerned the protection of Pashtun rights. The acknowledgement of a political difference for Pakistan would mean that the fate of the Pashtuns had not been settled and was still open to negotiation with Afghanistan. Such a position would have been contrary to Pakistan’s claim of Sovereignty of the Pashtuns and the Baluchi’s. However, as with Daud’s improved attitude, Bhutto also began to make room for compromise. Relations began to improve, when two important decisions had been taken by Pakistan. The First was the admission by Pakistan that a dispute existed between the two countries and the second was the recognition that Afghanistan had the right to be concerned about the fate of the Pashtuns, living east and south of the Durand Line (Ghaus, 1988, p.148)
Daud also began to offer a more realistic vision of autonomy for Pashtunistan rattier than striving for an independent state. It looked likely that the two governments could have achieved something together. However, the departure of Bhutto in July 1977 followed quickly by Daud in April 1978, meant that the new compromising attitudes did not get a chance to work together. “The strong possibility that this dispute was finally going to be settled was perhaps one of the underlying causes that hastened the communist takeover of Afghanistan.” (Ghaus, 1988, p.136)
The revised conciliatory outlook of Daud convinced his close confidant, Ghaus, who was closely involved in the Afghanistan-Pakistan talks during the republican period that the leaders of the two countries “would have been successful in achieving an honourable solution to the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan” (Ghaus, 1988, p.147)
It was back to square one with the new leadership in Afghanistan, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, and Zia Ul Haq who entered into talks but emerged with nothing to show.
From thereon, the uncompromising stance on the Durand Dispute had been insisted upon by Afghanistan. It was said that the Pashtun problem “should be resolved in the light of historical facts of this region” (Dawn, 1978, p.96)
When Hafizullah Amin became president he decided Pashtunistan belonged to ‘Great Afghanistan’ and his successor Karmal called the NWFP the ‘sacred land’ (Lesniewska, 2002, p.18).
After the withdrawal of the Soviet from Afghanistan, the Paskitanis hoped it would be able to reach an agreement with the Taliban who emerged out of the civil war. But this was not the case as the Taliban were not willing to entertain the notion of the frontier as a permanent one with Pakistan.
At present, the Afghan Government has more important priorities to work on first before it can seriously discuss the Durand Line. For the time being, Afghanistan may use unresolved issues to •use to divert Afghanistan’s public opinion from internal problems.
Continue reading – Chapter 3: The Durand Debate