Afghanistan’s Fateful Border
THE SOURCE: “The Man Who Drew the Fatal Durand Line” by David Rose, in Standpoint, March 2011.
When Sir Henry Mortimer Durand left Kabul in the autumn of 1893, his fellow Britons showered him with hosannas. Durand, then serving as foreign secretary of Britain’s Indian colony, had succeeded in negotiating the first “scientific frontier” between what are now Pakistan and Afghanistan, a crucial victory in British efforts to contain Russian expansionism. Queen Victoria herself telegrammed congratulations.
Fears of Russian encroachment into Afghanistan had sparked two wars with the Afghans, in 1839–42 and 1878–80, and the British believed that drawing a well-defined frontier and befriending Afghanistan’s “Iron Amir,” Abdur Rehman Khan (with the help of plenty of cash), would make the country an effective buffer between Russia and British India. A deeper motive was also at work. The British were haunted by the bloody Indian Mutiny of 1857—Durand himself had lost his mother in the conflict—and were convinced that taking decisive steps against the Russians would disabuse the Indians of any notions of British weakness. Durand’s biographer wrote in 1926 that “generations yet unborn will benefit from the Durand Line that he negotiated.”
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