Today this line through a mountainous, arid, sparsely populated area is regarded by Pakistan, and most of the world, as the international border with Afghanistan, but Afghanistan has never formally recognized it as such. Above all, the people living around the line have never recognized it as a border. They were there before these states. They wonder who gave Durand or anyone in London, Kabul, Delhi, or Islamabad the right to divide them?
There is nowhere more different from the Durand Line than the Sea of Marmora. This morning I walked along the seafront, by a stone wall that once constituted the fortifications of the entry to the Golden Horn and the Strait of Bosporus. Yesterday from the terrace of my hotel, my colleagues and I saw an enormous container ship traveling from the Black Sea through the Strait and outward to the Mediterranean. Would it then cross the Suez canal and enter the Indian Ocean?
The ship was registered with the Maersk shipping line; I remembered seeing the same containers while driving from Kabul to Jalalabad in the spring of 2005 with Omar Zakhilwal, head of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency. The main road from Kabul to Sarobi was closed for construction, so we had to take the old road, over the Lataband Pass, the same route taken by the Army of the Indus when it retreated under fire from Kabul to Jalalabad in 1841. The Army of the Indus, however, had long since mutated into the Armed Forces of Pakistan, and today most of the traffic was in the other direction. Truck after truck lumbered with full loads of Maersk containers headed for Kabul from the port of Karachi via Peshawar and Jalalabad, carrying, what? -- Ukrainian airplane parts shipped from Odessa (where my great-grandfather was born) through the Strait of Bosporus and on through the Sea of Marmora?
So much for the unchanging Afghan frontier. Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, during whose reign (1880-1901) the Durand Line was demarcated, decided against building roads through the country's passes, as the same roads that facilitated trade facilitated conquest as well. Afghanistan's isolation protected both his rule -- and the British Empire in India. Britain, which subsidized the Amir's
government and army to assure that it could control the territory on the frontier, forbade Kabul to welcome any foreign legation but one from Delhi. The Amir depicted his realm as a just Islamic order under his command: But to the British this isolated Afghanistan state with a subsidized army fulfilled the function of a buffer state: keeping Russia far from their Empire. The British and Russian governments demarcated the rest of the country's borders and formalized their agreement in the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention on Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet.
This Treaty was an part of the same process that Usama Bin Laden evoked in his warning to the United States on October 7, 2001. Seated not far from the Durand Line before an outcropping of the mountains of Afghanistan, whose name and history he did not mention, the Amir of al-Qa'ida informed his global audience:
What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for tens of years. Our nation has been tasting this humiliation and contempt for more than 80 years.
What was he talking about? He was talking about the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), in which "THE BRITISH EMPIRE, FRANCE, ITALY, JAPAN, GREECE, ROUMANIA and the SERB-CROAT-SLOVENE STATE, of the one part,and TURKEY,of the other part" agreed to the demarcation of today's Republic of Turkey.
Lausanne followed on the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which separated most of the Ottoman Empire from Anatolia. Together these treaties abolished the Islamic caliphate, which had been claimed for centuries by the Ottoman Sultan and recognized by most Sunni Muslims. The Treaty of Lausanne stipulated:
No power or jurisdiction in political, legislative or administrative matters shall be exercised outside Turkish territory by the Turkish Government or authorities, for any reason whatsoever, over the nationals of a territory placed under the sovereignty or protectorate of the other Powers signatory of the present Treaty, or over the nationals of a territory detached from Turkey.
It is understood that the spiritual attributions of the Moslem religious authorities are in no way infringed.
The division of the Islamic umma, the Muslim community, into nation states by the European colonial powers the better to dominate them and nullify the temporal power of the Islamic caliphate is at the heart of Bin Laden's grievances against the contemporary world order. Destruction of the caliphate based in Istanbul prepared the ground, in his view, for the catastrophe of the Palestinians, sanctions and war against Iraq, and the "occupation of the Land of Muhammad" by "infidel troops."
Though Bin Laden mentioned neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, al-Qaida respects the border dividing these two states no more than it does the State of Israel or the secular Republic of Turkey. All are equally products of aggression against the Muslims.
It is no coincidence that al-Qaida, though led and conceived by Arabs, was founded in these borderlands. To Westerners it may appear that Bin Laden is now trapped in an isolated region. But this region, never fully integrated into the modern system of states, provides an appropriate seat for this transnational insurgency against that very system.
And as the itinerary of the containers shows, that region is no longer the isolated backwater it remains in the National Geographic mind. While in the days of Abdul Rahman Khan only British India was permitted a legation in Kabul, today the capital of the Mughal Emperor Babur is a major outpost of the UN, NATO, the US Central Command, and the European Union, with enormous embassies of every major country under construction. The people whom Amir Abdul Rahman Khan informed about his rule with an illustrated map are now more likely to have traveled abroad than Americans, if not usually as tourists, and listen to far more international news in several languages.
Their country, which used to rely on subsistence farming, has become a commercial single-crop economy. Opium poppy -- like sugar cane in Cuba, rubber in Liberia, or tea in Sri Lanka -- encroaches further every year on land used for subsistence farming and traditional horticulture. Traffickers and traders from all major markets reserve their share of the Afghan product through futures markets. Every family includes migrants in Karachi, Iran, or the states of the Persian Gulf. The remittances sent by these workers finance many new houses and shops, while the workers, separated for years at a time from family, tribe, and village, seek refuge and meaning in mosques frequented by global preachers. Cash, once rare, reaches the remotest villages through this global trade and the omnipresent hawala system, which links Afghans to global electronic banking networks through mobile phones and itinerant traders.
It is common enough to observe that globalization has transformed sovereignty, transferring functions of states to larger organizations like the European Union and shattering the weak institutions of others. It is less commonly realized that Bin Laden's vision of the caliphate constitutes a revolutionary response to globalization. The states drawn by imperial powers on the territory of the Islamic umma have excluded the Palestinians from nationhood and placed one of Islam's holiest places under Israeli control. The zone from where Bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawihiri now issue their pronouncements symbolizes how the same process of state making has divided and ill-served the Pashtuns.
The dialectic of terrorism and counter-terrorism has transformed the tribal areas. In 2003, when US pressure to search for the al-Qaida leadership led General Pervez Musharraf to send the Army of Pakistan (a direct descendant of the Army of the Indus) into the Momand Tribal Agency, elders awoke officials in Kabul with midnight calls -- Pakistan had invaded "Afghanistan." For in these elders' minds, while the Afghan state administration ended at the Durand Line, Afghanistan did not.
Islamabad's invocation of US pressure to fence and even mine that border has led elders to tell President Hamid Karzai that if he allows Pashtuns to be divided in this way, his name will be remembered with shame. The Afghan Army has responded by firing on the Pakistan Army, the same Pakistan Army that is fighting al-Qaida. The lives of the people need a soft border, but Washington's counter-terrorism needs a hard one.
In my Istanbul hotel room, as sea traffic traverses the Bosporus outside my window, al-Jazeera English broadcasts the news: the battle of the Red Mosque in Islamabad; demonstrations in Bajaur; the anniversary of the latest war in Lebanon; the ongoing massacres in Iraq and Sudan; more suicide bombers in Afghanistan. And on CNN and Bloomberg I see the growth of the US trade deficit, the fall of the dollar against other currencies, and the unstoppable growth of the US debt, as our government sells securities to China to cover the costs of the war in Iraq.
Amir Abdul Rahman Khan used the British subsidy to build his army; he used his army to build his revenues; he used his revenues to build a justice system; and the justice system enabled his people -- those he had not massacred or exiled -- to till their lands in peace. He died in his bed in 1901 bequeathing to his son both rulership and a surplus of 40 million rupees in the national treasury.
This Circle of Justice, first described in an Islamic text of the eighth century, has for centuries constituted the model of governance for the people of South and West Asia; today the Afghan Government uses it to describe the goals of its Afghanistan National Devleopment Strategy.
But in response to the challenge of Bin Laden, rather than building its army, the US has mobilized thousands of private contractors and exhausted its army in the fatal venture of Iraq. Rather than calling our people to fight and sacrifice, our government cut the taxes of those most able to afford to pay and financed its military ventures with subsidies, not from an imperial hegemon, but from financial markets that are far more arbitrary than Lord Curzon. To retain its monopoly on power in the face of failure, the ruling party has undermined the system of justice. We could have responded more wisely to Bin Laden's challenge, but we have drawn this circle of injustice around ourselves.
In 1919, Abdul Rahman's grandson, Amanullah Khan, made Afghanistan independent and renounced the British subsidy. Less than ten years later, he was overthrown. Amanullah had attempted a grand transformation for which he had no resources. His efforts to raise taxes and strengthen the state provoked a peasant uprising that brought a Tajik commander to power, ending the dynasty of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan. Soon Pashtun tribes from the same areas now hosting Bin Laden and Zawahiri descended on Kabul to loot it and install a new, much weakened king.
Neither Bin Laden nor the neo-Taliban of the tribal zone are Pashtun nationalists -- that ideology serves the interest of a state in Kabul and politicians in Peshawar and Quetta. But the ideology of the caliphate provides another vehicle for the grievances and ambitions of people whom the nation-state system always served poorly.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, the "international community," acting unilaterally, bilaterally, and multilaterally, is trying to shore up, strengthen, and create states to provide peace and stability. Some, even many, people of those areas long to become full citizens of states that protect their rights and provide services. But for many others, it is harder to imagine that they might one day be citizens of an effective accountable nation-state than that they might be joined with their fellow Muslims in a renewed caliphate. Somewhere in the mountains of the land its inhabitants call Pakhtunkhwa, Bin Laden is waiting.