The Durand Line

The Durand Line

A historic, disputed border separates Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Grades

4 - 12+

Subjects

Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography, Religion, Social Studies, World History

The Durand Line is the 2,640-kilometer (1,640-mile) border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s the result of an agreement between Sir Mortimer Durand, a secretary of the British Indian government, and Abdur Rahman Khan, the emir, or ruler, of Afghanistan. The agreement was signed on November 12, 1893, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The Durand Line as served as the official border between the two nations for more than one hundred years, but it has caused controversy for the people who live there.

When the Durand Line was created in 1893, Pakistan was still a part of India. India was in turn controlled by the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom ruled India from 1858 until India’s independence in 1947. Pakistan also became a nation in 1947.

Punjabis and Pashtuns

There are two major ethnic groups near the Durand Line. Those two groups are the Punjabis and the Pashtuns. Most Punjabis and Pashtuns are Sunni Muslim. Punjabis are the largest ethnic group in Pakistan. Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.

There are also a lot of Pashtuns in northwestern Pakistan, where they ruled over 103,600 square kilometers (40,000 square miles) of territory, before being defeated by the British in 1847. At the time, the Pashtuns were fighting to prevent the Punjabis from expanding farther into the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan.

The British established the Durand Line after conquering the Pashtuns. Eighty-five percent of the Durand Line follows rivers and other physical features, not ethnic boundaries. It split the Pashtuns into two separate countries.

Afghanistan governs all the Pashtuns on one side of the Durand Line, while Pakistan governs all the Pashtuns on the other. The Pashtuns on the Pakistan side of the border made up more than half of the Pashtun population, but were now under the control of the Punjabis, which made them angry.

The Pashtuns were also angry at the British colonial government.

Throughout history, colonial forces like the British have set boundaries that cause great tension for people who lived in the colony. Because the officials who drew the Durand Line didn’t consider the ethnic groups that lived in the region, today there are many battles along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. On one side is the Pakistani army, made up mostly of Punjabis, and on the other is the Taliban, made up mostly of Pashtuns.

The Afghanistan government encourages the Pashtun people inside Pakistan to have their own separate state inside that country. For the 41 million Pashtuns in the region, support is also growing for a separate country called Pashtunistan. Pashtunistan is also the name for the area between Afghanistan and Pakistan where most Pashtuns live.

Right now, the Durand Line passes through the Pakistani provinces of North-West Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and Balochistan. It also includes 10 provinces in Afghanistan.

The conflict between the Taliban, the Afghanistan government, the Pakistani government, and foreign (including American) troops in the area is often violent. The Durand Line endures suicide bombs, air strikes, or street fighting almost every day.

Fast Fact

Read All About It

Read the actual text of the Durand Line Agreement.

Fast Fact

Large Tribe
The 40 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries, are the largest tribal group in the world. Pashtuns are considered a tribal group because their political structure is based on family or clan. There are about 60 major Pashtun clans.

Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, is Pashtun. He is a part of the Tareen clan and the Popalzai sub-clan. Karzai is from Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city (after the capital, Kabul). Kandahar is populated mostly by Pashtuns.

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Writer
Mary Schons,
Editors
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West,
Producer
National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

July 1, 2022

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