Afghans take pride in reminding the unfamiliar of the Durrani Empire once conquered by the first modern Afghan king, Ahmad Shah Durrani, which included not only the North-Western tribal lands but Northern India also. Afghanistan therefore lays a historical claim to the land that now forms Pashtunistan, having lost the territory after being caught up in the battlefield of imperialism between the British and Russia in the 19th Century. They reject the Durand Treaty as a valid agreement on the grounds that it was imposed by a great power upon its weak neighbour (Qureshi, 1966, p.103). The powerful British seized the opportunity to threaten and pressure Amir Abdur Rahman Khan into signing the Durand Agreement on November 12 1893, not understanding the full implications of the treaty. However, according to the Pakistani point of view, the treaty was agreed upon after a cordial discussion between the Amir and Sir Mortimer Durand, with both parties knowing full well what the agreement entailed.
The fate of the frontier was an important concern for both the Amir an the British. The Amir considered the tribal areas part of Afghanistan and the Pashtuns inhabiting these lands considered him their spiritual leader at the very least (Ghaus, 1988, p.14). The British became wary of the influence the Amir had over the tribes, suspecting him of playing a part in the resistance the tribes were offering to their forward policy on the frontier. The British Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne, put forward proposal that attempted to solve these problems. The suggestion was to delineate the frontier to give the British more of a control over the tribal lands. When the Amir refused to discuss such a proposal, Lord Lansdowne planned an embargo on all shipments of arms and metal to Afghanistan. With the Amir still refusing to accept the British mission, the Viceroy then threatened him with military intervention. The Amir then thought carefully, taking into consideration the instability of his country, too weak to endure yet another battle with the British. With this in mind, he allowed the British to send forth their plans for Hie treaty “The Amir knew that a British friendship was in Afghanistan’s
best interests” (Ghaus, 1988, p.15). It could be assumed that the ‘hawks’ in Delhi would have ordered another invasion of Afghanistan had the Amir refused the offer again
In September 1893, the Foreign Secretary for the Government of India arrived in Kabul with firm demands and premeditated plans for a clearly defined buffer zone between Afghanistan and British India The Amir raised objections to these demands but these were harshly met with pressure from Durand to sign. The Amir was presented with an ultimatum and realising that he was defending a lost cause, reluctantly agreed to sign the agreement, “disgusted with the heavy-handed imperialistic handling of the matter by the Government of India” (Ghaus, 1988, p.15). The argument from Qureshi states that Durand had led an unarmed mission to Kabul to negotiate the treaty with the Amir. However, he fails to mention the mounting threats of invasion that pressured the Amir to agree to receive MortimerDurand. Upon learning of the Amir’s acceptance to discuss the treaty, the British would obviously not feel the need to arrive armed. He also mentions the annual subsidy that the British offered the Amir, which he accepted as part of the deal, but again fails to note the circumstances surrounding this. As Dupree and Ghaus mention, after the signing of the agreement, the Amir’s annual subsidy increased from 1.2 to 1.8 million rupees (Dupree, 1973), implying the difficulty in obtaining the Amir’s signature. As well as this, arms and ammunition quotas were also increased and the embargo was also lifted(The “Durand found it necessary to aim several veiled threats at the Amir.” (Dupree)
Apparently, Abdur Rahman had held a durbar to applaud the treaty asking his Sardars and subjects to be good to them as they were his friends. This can be put down to the straightforward explanation of the strict Pashtunwali code which heralds hospitality, even to enemies, as an important principle. Out of respect and honouring this code of conduct, the Amir would have held this Durbar, regardless of the differences that occurred between the two parties.
Dupree supports the former with convincing evidence to suggest that Amir Abdur Rahman Khan resented British interference in the Pashtun tribal areas, viewing them with apprehension. Dupree points to the Amir’s autobiography to illustrate that the
continuing tribal revolts in the tribal lands were becoming a problem for him and so led to his welcoming attitude to the proposed divisions by the British.
The 1893 Durand Agreement is seen by the Afghan people as an act of betrayal towards the country. However, the reality of the situation is best explained by Daud Khan in an exchange to Ghaus:
“From the safe perspective of years it seems unpardonable that the Amir accepted the so-called Durand Line. But if one tries to imagine the tremendous pressures to which he must have been exposed and the knowledge that he had of British Imperial ways, one tends to become more charitable and agree that those were really extenuating circumstances. By accepting the Durand Line, the Amir may have saved what remained the Afghan territory” (Ghaus, 1988, p.16)
By putting his country first, the Amir had to adopt a balanced attitude towards the persevering British in order to minimize the damage to his people and country.
Continue reading – 3.3 Pakistan: Successor State?