The demarcation of the frontier between British India and Afghanistan was made explicit by the Durand Agreement of 1893. Imposed over Afghan objections it divided the Pashtun tribes and gave the British control of those in what would become the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). From the very beginning the line caused controversy by dividing communities and creating a set of territories within the NWFP that remained under British sovereignty but outside of its colonial administration. No Afghan government ever accepted the Durand line as an international border. This refusal has continued for more than a century under regimes of all political stripes, some of which called for the reincorporation of the territory into Afghanistan or the creation of a new state of Pashtunistan. Pakistan by contrast has always insisted the Durand Line constitutes its recognized international border with Afghanistan. However, following the practice of the British, it continued to recognize the autonomy of the tribes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in which the writ of normal Pakistani law and government did not run. This has created problems for both countries. FATA is the major transit route for large scale smuggling operations into Pakistan from Afghan territory. But the FATA also serves as both a haven for al Qaeda leaders and a base for Afghan Taliban to conduct cross-border attacks on the Government of Afghanistan and the international forces assisting it. Disagreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan over who has responsibility for dealing with such forces has soured relations between the two neighbors and heightened their distrust of one another.
Because the Durand Line remains such a significant issue today, the conference examined its impact by focusing panels on four areas. The first examined the history and politics of the agreement, including disputes about the international status of the line, its applicability to successor governments, and problems of self-determination. The second focused on the social, political and economic impact the line has had on the Pashtun tribes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The third panel examined the current political and military situation in the trans-border region with a particular focus on FATA where major conflicts have erupted between Islamist groups, traditional tribal leaders and the Pakistani government. The fourth panel examined the future of the Durand Line and suggested possible resolutions for this seemingly intractable issue. The conference is designed to combine academic perspectives with policy relevant analysis to throw light on an issue that may grow old but never grows quiet.