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Afghan Army Chief Says Differing Maps Add To Cross Border Tensions With Pakistan

General Sher Mohammad Karimi
General Sher Mohammad Karimi
KABUL -- Afghanistan's top soldier said conflicting maps of the country’s long and porous eastern border with Pakistan are adding to cross-border tensions between the two countries.

General Sher Mohammad Karimi told Radio Free Afghanistan that the 19th century Durand Line border is being depicted differently in the official maps used by Afghan and Pakistani security forces.

"We have some major strategic and political problems between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and unless we resolve those problems we can only have limited tactical [military cooperation] along our border," he said. "The depiction of the Durand Line is one such problem. For instance, whenever we have fighting close to the border it is difficult to agree on which country it actually happened in because we are using different maps."

Karimi said the Pakistani army is using British colonial maps, while Afghan forces refer to Soviet-era maps created in Russia.

"[The Pakistani army] claim that their maps are the standard because they were drawn by the British, who demarcated the Durand Line." he said. "We need to find ways of resolving these disagreements because we cannot keep it this way indefinitely."

​The Durand Line is named after 19th century British diplomat Mortimer Durand who negotiated the boundary with Afghan King Amir Abdur Rahman in 1893. It formalized the the division of the Pashtun regions between British India and Afghanistan after decades of wars between the Afghan Durrani dynasty and the British Empire.

Today the line partitions traditional Pashtun lands with an estimated 50 million inhabitants--around 35 million Pashtuns living east of the line in Pakistan and 15 million on the west in Afghanistan.

Kabul has never recognized the boundary with Pakistan as an international border. Afghan officials still refer to it as the Durand Line rather than the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which is the preferred term in Pakistan.

NATO has attempted to bridge the differences between the neighbors by forming a trilateral forum frequently attended by Pakistani, Afghan and NATO generals.

But border disagreements and cross border raids and shelling are common.

At least one Afghan border guard was killed in a skirmish between Afghan and Pakistani forces on May 15. Afghan officials claimed that the shooting began after Afghan guards caught some Pakistani soldiers attempting to set up a checkpoint in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar where the border is poorly marked.

Karimi met the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and their NATO counterpart General Joseph Dunford on May 19 in an effort to enhance cross-border cooperation, but he was not very optimistic about the talks.

"Unless we resolve the main political and strategic problems, such tactical talks will only have temporary tactical benefits," he said.

Written by Abubakar Siddique, based on reporting by Fahim Abid.