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Causes of Instability in Afghan Pak Region

Info: 5431 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 12th Dec 2019

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Tagged: HistoryInternational Studies




Durand Line[i], the notorious frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some people blame this frontier for all of Afghanistan's current problems. And there are those who go so far as to blame it for the problems in Pakistan. Indeed, there are those who blame the Durand line not just for terrorism and other problems of instability in Pakistan, but even for the terrorist attacks suffered in London in July 2005, tracing their origins all the way back to the tribal agencies of North- West Pakistan.

2. Some people have even been so bold as to say that everything in Afghanistan would be sorted out if only the United States could cross over the frontier and ‘do its thing' there. Such commentators seem little daunted by the fact that British administrators spent 150 years trying in vain to resolve the same problems which confront us today. The region that is today known as Afghanistan was long torn by ethnic and tribal rivalries.

3. The strategic significance of Afghanistan was not lost on either the British Empire or the Soviets. And hence, Afghanistan became a buffer between Communism and the West. Afghanistan shares borders with six countries, but the approximate 1500 mile

long Durand Line along Pakistan remains the most dangerous. Kabul has never recognised the line as an international border, instead claiming the Pashtun territories in Pakistan that comprise the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of North West Frontier Province along the border.

4. The geo strategic importance of Afghanistan has been a major factor in foreign policy formulations Pakistan. Afghanistan has always provided the much-needed strategic depth to Pakistan in all its policies against India. The Durand Line, becomes a very important factor as the Durand line, is still not accepted by the Pashtuns on either side.

5. In view of the above, it is essential to identify the fault line i.e. the Pakhtoon Divide and turbulent relationship between the two nations as the source of instability in the region, with specific reference to its effect on Afghan Pakistan relations. The study, while briefly looking at the events leading genesis of the problem will attempt to analyse whether turbulent Pakistan Afghanistan relations(which have not been cordial in spite of geographical contiguity and identity of religion, cultural and economic interests) and Pakhtoon divide legacy as the cause of instability in the region.


Statement of the Problem

6. To analyse whether instability in Afghan Pak region can be attributed to turbulent relationship between the two nations and Pakhtoon Divide legacy.

Justification for the Study

7. Afghanistan shares borders with six countries, but the approximate 1500 mile long Durand Line along Pakistan remains the most dangerous. Kabul has never recognised the line as an international border, instead claiming the Pashtun territories in Pakistan that comprise the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of North West Frontier Province[ii] along the border.Incidents of violence have increased on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border since the U.S led war in Afghanistan. In the last several years, U.S. officials and national intelligence reports have repeatedly attributed the growing strength of Al-Qaeda and resurgence of the Taliban to safe havens in this border region.

8. The rise of Taliban and the support provided to them by Pakistan has given a different complexion to the Afghan Pak crisis. Taliban led Afghanistan is an ally of Pakistan and the ambit of their relations cover Islamic fundamentalism, support to Kashmir militants and even strategic depth to Pakistan in the event of hostilities with India. Hence it is important to carry out an analysis of the reasons for instability in Afghan Pak region.


9. This study concentrates on the historical perspectives, the Pakhtoon issue, the stands of both the nations on Pakhtoon issue, relations and policies adopted by both the countries which have led Afghanistan Pakistan region into a troubled area and rise of insurgency leading to instability in the region.

Data Collection

10. The study is primarily based on information gathered from books written by authors of Indian, western origin and other Afghanistan experts. Other sources of information are articles written in Indian newspapers, defense journals and periodicals have been referred. Various internet sites too have been accessed to get the latest inputs. A detailed bibliography of sources is appended at the end of the text.

Organisation of the Dissertation

11. The study will be covered under the following heads :-

(a) Chapter II : The Pakhtoonian Issue: Study of Legacy.

(b) Chapter III : Conflicting Stands on Pakhtoonian Issue.

(c) Chapter IV : Pak - Afghan Relations and Pakhtoonian Issue.

(d) Chapter V : Pakistan's Afghan Policy.

(e) Chapter VI : The Insurgency in The Border Area and Threat to


(f) Chapter VII : Recommendations.

12. Chapter II - The Pakhtoonian Issue: Study Of Legacy. This chapter gives an overview of the historical perspective of the complexity of the present Pak - Afghan relations which can be comprehended by understanding the historical background to the

Pakhtoonian issue. In this chapter, an attempt has been made to analyse the British and Russian policies of imperialism and competition in Central and South Asia which compelled the to regard Afghanistan as ‘Zone of Interpenetration'. The British ‘outer oriented ‘ frontier policy in the north - western boders of India which resulted in vague ill defined Indo - Afghan border and later hostile Pak - Afghan relations.

13. Chapter III - Conflicting Stands on Pakhtoonian Issue. The bitterness and hostility between Pakistan and Afghanistan are an imperial legacy and arbitrary segregation of Pakhtoons by the Durand Line in disregard of their ethnic affinities. Both countries have come to loggerheads many a times over Pakhtoonian issue. This chapter analyses arguments advanced by both the countries in favor of their positions.

14. Chapter IV - Pak - Afghan Relations and Pakhtoonian Issue. This chapter deals with the Pastunistan Issue and Pak - Afghan relations, wherein it is argued that the domestic restraints imposed by internal dynamics of the two countries have been responsible for continuation of hostilities.

15. Chapter V - Pakistan's Afghan Policy. This chapter will cover the interests of Pakistan in pursuing policies to give it control over Afghanistan and their unstinted support to the Taliban to accomplish this endeavor.

16. Chapter VI -The Insurgency In The Border Area And Threat to Region. The Talibanisation of Afghanistan and the various implications/threats it holds for the region would be analysed in the chapter.

17. Chapter VII - Recommendations. The Road Ahead


"The first and most important advice that I can give to my successors and people to make Afghanistan into a great kingdom is to impress upon their minds the value of unity; unity, and unity alone, can make it into a great power."

Abdur Rehman Khan

Amir of Afghanistan



1. The complexity of the present Afghan Pak relations can be comprehended better with some political background that led to Pakhtoonian issue[iii] - a question relating to legal and political status of the trans Afghan Pakhtoons.

2. The Pakhtoons are ancient tribes[iv], they inhibited the eastern highlands and mountains of Afghanistan when Alexander armies passed through that area to invade India in the 4th century B.C. Afghanistan, as an independent country, is a recent phenome­non. When Ahmed Shah Abdali was selected as the king by the Afghan tribes "there was then no such thing as Afghanistan". The first thing for him to do, therefore, was to bring together various Afghan districts into one political unit. The period after the death of Ahmed Shah in 1773 saw a lot of confusion and intense struggle for power in Afghanistan. By that time the British had established themselves in most parts of India, extending their authority up to the Sutlej.

3. Meanwhile in the early 19th century the Sikh power under Ranjit Singh flourished in Punjab. The dominion of Ranjit Singh expanded considerably in the north-west as a result of political confusion in Afghanistan and extended up to the east of the Khyber Pass.[v] After the fall of the Sikh empire in 1849, the British occupied Sikh possessions, which brought them into direct contact with the Afghan territory for the first time.[vi] It is important to note that Afghanistan's boundaries were not clearly defined at that time which gave rise to a number of uneasy and unhappy positions as the British and Russian empires exploited the vagueness of Afghan frontiers.

4. After the conquest of Punjab, the British influence unmis­takably spread north-west ward. But the British were not the only power that was consolidating its position in the region. The Russians were also advancing in the same direction which made the British uneasy. They knew that Afghanistan having undefined boundaries is the only country between their empire and Russia. Finding direct control over Afghanistan expensive and difficult because of the rocky and mountainous land and Pakhtoons “tradi­tional love of independence," Britain wanted to have an independent and strong—though not too strong—Afghanistan as a barrier to the expansion of Russian influence. In other words, the British were keen to make Afghanistan a buffer state between Russia and the British India. Afghanistan thus found itself caught in a vice between the two great powers.

Close Border or Forward Policy

5. But boundaries looked increasingly important. By the 1840s the Russians had reached the Aral Sea and were slowly being drawn into Central Asia. In 1849 the Punjab passed into British hands, as did Sindh. By this point British India had as its effective border the foothills of the mountains where dwelt the Pushtun hill tribes. The tribes saw no reason to stop their traditional raids just because the territory was now British. So, like the Mughuls and Sikhs before them, the British were faced with the problem of how to control the tribes.

6. They tried first the ‘Close Border Policy'[vii] which held as a principle that British sovereignty should not be extended to areas which could not be governed effectively. Accordingly the foothills were fortified to keep out the hill-based tribal peoples and irregular troops, levies, were raised to resist attacks on the population of the foothills. To keep the tribesmen sweet, the British tried making agreements with them, they tried friendship, they tried goodwill, they tried allowances for good behavior, giving them money to provide services to keep the roads open, to protect communications, to deny sanctuary to outlaws in contravention of their tribal codes. But this didn't work very well. Expedition after expedition went into the hills to chastise the tribal people. Yet this was all much in vain, clear signs that this ‘close border policy' was not working.

7. As the 19th century progressed, another approach was devised: the ‘Forward Policy'[viii], called the Sandeman system, which involved capturing and holding areas in the tribal zones in the hills. Strong points were captured, fortified, garrisoned and connected by roads which would be protected. The tribes would be allowed to run their

own affairs in the hope they would gradually come under the influence of the British government. But this forward policy inevitably raised the question of where the border between British India and Afghanistan should be set. At the same time fears were growing about the advance of the Russian Empire. By the 1870s the Russians had been able to capture the great Central Asian cities of Bokhara, Samarkand and Khiva. Hence the appeal of the ‘forward policy' which in its most extreme form posited that the frontier be pushed as far forward as possible, ideally to the genuine or ‘scientific' frontier of the Hindu Kush, with Kabul, Ghazni and Kandahar forming the first line of defense. This idea found brief expression in the Second Afghan war of 1878 - 1880 when the British invaded Afghanistan again and found themselves trying to hold the old Mughal frontier. But they failed not because of the Russians, but because of Afghan resistance.

The Durand line[ix]

8. By the 1880s the Russians had advanced further and were pressing on the river Oxus and Afghanistan itself. By 1893, the British had concluded that formal borders needed to be established between Afghanistan and British India, so that everyone would know where they stood and the Russian advance could be held off from the British Empire in India. The man sent to negotiate was the Indian Foreign Secretary, Sir Henry Mortimer Durand.

9. Durand's main concern was to secure Afghanistan's northern border with Russia. A first settlement had been made in 1885 using the Oxus River but the boundary had not been taken all the way east into the region of the Pamirs and the Wakhan. Durand was desperate to make sure that this part of the border was absolutely clear so that the Russians could not sneak down through the Pamir Mountains into northern India. The Amir dangled that card before Durand to get a better deal when the frontier between British India and Afghanistan was negotiated. It is not the case that the British presented a clearly thought-out proposal for a particular line for the frontier and threatened a further invasion if their proposal was not accepted. There was a lot of give and take in the negotiation. The Amir put forward an ambitious boundary proposal, the British suggested a very different frontier line which would include Waziristan in British India. After lot of to and fro, ultimately the Afghans agreed that Dir, Swat, Peshawar and Chitral should be British. In return the Afghans secured some strategic strong points, notably Asmar, which gave them access to Nuristan and various of Afghanistan's eastern regions.[x]

10. Then, at the very last moment, when agreement had been reached that all of Waziristan would be British, Durand, almost as an afterthought, possibly as a concession to allow the Amir to gain a little face, suddenly allowed the Amir to keep the Birmal tract of Waziristan. This was not the best of ideas, since it involved splitting Waziristan and the tribal people in two. But it may be that the maps from which the Amir and Durand were working were not very good, for when the demarcation teams went out into the field to try to delimit the boundary, there were areas represented on the map

which did not exist on the ground and vice versa. Memoirs indicate that the Amir was pleased with the settlement reached. Nevertheless at the same time the Amir secretly spread propaganda against the British, saying that he was not pleased and that it would be a good thing to move the Line over towards the east.

11. Amir Abdul Rahman Khan ruled Afghanistan for the last two decades of the 19th century. He was prevented from expanding externally by Russia in the North and North East, the British in the North and North West and Persia in the East. Internally, he was also surrounded by many difficulties. His first priority was to consolidate his position internally. After he had satisfactorily consolidated his position to an extent, he turned towards reforms that he felt were necessary for making Afghanistan a great nation in the future. Amir felt that reforms would not be possible until a boundary line was marked along the perimeter of Afghanistan so that people could know what provinces really belonged to Afghanistan.[xi]

12. The Durand Line (refer Appendix ), as demarcated between 1893 and 1896, was drawn all the way from the Persian frontier to the Wakhan, the little area on which the British insisted to keep a distance between the British and Russian Empires. There were two exceptions which at that time remained undemarcated, an area in the region of Chitral and another area a little north of the routes towards Kabul - the country of the Mohmand tribe. The demarcation team tried to make the line as sensible as possible by using natural features, such as mountain crests, streams and rivers as boundaries, thus splitting up areas of river drainage. They also tried to set up boundary pillars so that there was some physical evidence of the boundary.

13. A close look at the route of this 1900 mile long boundary, indicates that the first section follows the crest of the Hindu Kush Mountains, where there is only the occasional pass. This section was actually very secure, for given the height and the cold it was difficult to moves forces across the area. Next the Line moves further down towards the Mohmand hills, where there was one of the undemarcated sections. There are still few passes of importance in this region. However coming down to the vital strategic region, the number of passes increases. There is of course the Khyber Pass, another important pass in the Kurram Agency, and a third, the Tochi pass, which was an important trade and invasion route in the old days. Further on, in the area of Waziristan, the Line does not follow mountain crests and peaks so clearly. It is convoluted, following various peoples' agricultural rights and field boundaries. The Line splits at least 12 villages in half and divides other villages from their agricultural territories. It becomes easier to follow further south where most of the land is just desert.

14. The line cuts tribes and tribal groups in half. The Birmal tract of Waziristan is on the Afghanistan side, with the rest of Waziristan on the British or Pakistani side. The Mohmand tribal areas are also cut in two. And, inevitably, because the border is generally in a very distant set of areas, it is highly porous and difficult to police, especially when family groups are on both sides. Particularly in Waziristan, there are many passes and paths through which it is easy to move from British India (or Paki- stan) into Afghanistan and back.

15. There were advantages of the Line for the British. There was a strategic advantage in that they held positions forward of the passes and controlled the heights, thus facilitating the policing of the passes. They also managed to achieve the tripartite border - a vision they had held for a long time.[xii] The first part of the border was the buffer state, Afghanistan. The second part was the tribal areas in the hills, which the

British did not try to govern, but simply garrisoned. These areas were vassal states, on the Indian side of the line but not under the sovereignty of British India. The third part was further back, where the real government of India started. The depth of this frontier system certainly kept the Russians away, but the corollary was that the British faced the familiar internal policing problem.

16. There were also advantages for the Afghans. As the ruler of Afghanistan was trying to unify his country and make it into a coherent state. Because he had been given a set of clear boundaries, it was much easier for him to project his power within those boundaries and to know that he would not be interfered with. Further north, he was able for the first time to extend his sway right up to the frontier.

17. For the people on the ground, there was not much of a practical effect. They still had freedom of movement. In the 1893 Treaty which he signed with Durand, Abdur Rahman promised not to try to project his influence over the border. But that did not stop him from inviting the tribesmen from those regions to Kabul and giving them honours, robes, money, guns anything to keep them sweet, anything to keep them on side.[xiii]

18. In 1904 Lord Curzon decided to divide the area to make it easier to administer. Originally the whole area was part of the Punjab. Lord Curzon split it off and created a government of the North Western Frontier Province. He established tribal areas beyond the administrative boundary of India where the Indian government did not presume to govern with regular laws. Different laws were set up for these tribal areas, the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), which had been in force in various forms since the

1870s, were now applied in a systematic way. They are a harsh set of laws, with some alarming implications and are still in force today, more or less in the form in which the British left them. All policing, executive and judicial functions are in the hands of a political agent, who is answerable, via a commissioner, originally directly to the government in Delhi, but now to the President of Pakistan. Political agents handle relations with tribes via chosen notables, called Maliks, who are subsidised and paid to keep order.

19. As for justice, the principle of collective responsibility and collective punishment still applies. Other members of the tribe can be held responsible for any crime committed by a member of the tribe. A tribal agent can hold a jirga, inviting several Maliks to help him decide points of fact in civil and criminal cases. But even then, the decision of this artificial court is not binding on the political agent. The cases are decided under customary law. There is also a Pakistan version of the West Lothian question. The frontier areas return members to the national Parliament, but the laws passed by the Parliament are not valid in the frontier areas unless there is a Presidential

approval. Until 1996 there was no referendum and political parties were outlawed in those regions.

20. At the moment of independence for India and Pakistan there was a legal curiosity. The legal status of these areas changed. All the agreements they had were not with the government of India, for they were not part of British India. Their agreements were actually directly with the British Crown. Thus, legally speaking, at independence all these agreements lapsed and the tribal areas became independent.By November Pakistan had made arrangements with the tribesmen under which their relations with Pakistan would be on the same basis as their relations with the British. That is how Pakistan came to control these areas. They did not inherit them; they found them as de facto semi-sovereign independent territories.

21. There was a lot of bad feeling there has been between Pakistan and Afghanistan on account of the border. In 1948 Afghanistan voted against Pakistan joining the United Nations. Pakistan delayed Afghan import and export goods on the border. Afghan radio called for independence for Pashtunistan. In 1949 Pakistan inadvertently attacked Afghanistan territory by air, a skirmish followed. Shortly afterwards a loya jirga, a great council in Kabul, repudiated all the boundary treaties made with the British, gave support to the idea of an independent Pashtunistan and urged that all the people in those areas should be given a referendum and the right to vote to join Afghanistan. In 1950 there was an incursion into the tribal areas by Afghan forces disguised as tribesmen. These were repulsed by Pakistan Pashtuns. Pakistan stopped Afghan imports for three months. In 1954 - 1955 the government of Pakistan

decided to change the country's administrative structure. Instead of having separate provinces such as Punjab and Sind, they tried to establish a single unified administrative area of West Pakistan to balance East Pakistan - now Bangladesh. Afghanistan saw it as the tribal areas being taken away from their potential influence. There was no war, but diplomatic relations became frosty in the extreme.

22. Pakistan sees Afghanistan as a hinterland which it wants to control as a fallback position, should there be any further conflict with India over Kashmir. The greatest concern however is controlling Kabul and stopping any more of these problems coming back over the borderline. With the 1980s and the Soviet invasion it seemed perfect sense to use the tribal areas as a point for launching the Mujahedin into Afghanistan. Again in the 1990s, its isolation made it the perfect place, not only to host those engaged in the fight for independence in Kashmir, but also to train the Taliban before they moved to control most of Afghanistan. In 2001 the area was again as a refuge for the Taliban. This suited the Pakistani government. They could maintain the Taliban areas as a Talibanised belt between Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the government set up by the West in Afghanistan were to fall, this would give them the liberty to move back and to project their influence there. However, by pursuing this policy Pakistan has created a monster which it cannot control. The Afghan Taliban are fine for interfering in Afghanistan but the area has become a well of religious fanaticism as much opposed to the Pakistani government as it is to the Afghan government.

23. Where does this leave us? Afghanistan does not recognise the Durand Line as a legal international boundary. The Afghans claim agreement to the Line was obtained under duress. They question whether the documentation was in order. They sometimes suggest that the British made up the agreement after returning home. They also question whether Amir Abdur Rahman understood what he was really signing up to, whether he understood the maps and whether he actually intended the boundary to be a legal international boundary. They complain that, at the moment of independence, the Pashtuns were not given the option of full self-determination. They were only given the choice between joining India and joining Pakistan, not independence or joining Afghanistan. They say the jirgas held between Pakistan and the tribal people were probably not in order. They say that the treaties made between the British and the Afghans lapsed at the moment of Independence, for they claim that Pakistan is not a valid successor state to British India.[xiv]

24. Pakistan, of course, holds an entirely opposite viewpoint, arguing that the frontier, the Durand Line, is a legitimate international boundary, in 1893 and confirmed by later treaties in 1905, 1919, 1921 and 1930. Pakistanis hold themselves to be the inheritors of the British legal rights at the moment of independence.

25. When the Line was drawn in 1895 - 1896, many of the British officials held the view that the Line was never meant to be an international boundary. It was a Line that delimited areas of influence, not sovereignty. There are various other legal considerations. In international law, lines dividing spheres of influence often develop into proper international boundary lines, sometimes even without the explicit say-so of

the states concerned. What international adjudicators look at is not just the original treaties; these can often be very unimportant. What matters is the practice of the states. 26. The Line is convoluted, but there are many convoluted borders all over the world where there are no problems. The real problem is that the Line itself generates instability, it is not policeable, and the constitution of the Tribal Areas does not permit economic development to take place. In the 60 years since independence Pakistan has not been able to bring these areas under proper administration. They remain a well of instability, which cannot help harming the relation and ultimate interests of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. With such a peculiar constitutional status in the Tribal Areas, there is no real possibility of stability, of establishing the rule of law, a sound banking system, the accountability of local officials, or putting in place the frameworks necessary for business and commerce.


"When Allah had made the rest of the world, He saw there was a lot of rubbish left over, bits and pieces and things that did not fit anywhere else. He collected them all together and threw them down on the earth. That was Afghanistan."[xv]

- An old Afghan Saying.


1. The bitterness and hostility between Pakistan and Afghanistan are an imperial legacy and the result of the arbitrary segregation of Pakhtoons by the Durand Line in disregard of their ethnic affinities. The two countries have come to loggerheads many a time over the Pakhtoonistan Issue[xvi]. Before analysing the arguments advanced by both the countries in favor of their positions, it is necessary to .be clear about the concept of Pakhtoonistan. The issue of Pushtunistan is closely linked with the Durand Line as a troublesome tribal boundary. Afghanistan, following the argument that the Durand Line was accepted under pressure, contends that Pushtuns living on either side should have the right of self- determination, as they were forcibly separated from their motherland. Secondly, the Afghan government argues that the inhabitants of Pushtunistan are one nation and that the Durand Line arbitrarily splits the nation into two[xvii].

2. Pakhtoonistan, conceived as a "hypothetical state" by Pakistan, has been defined differently by three distinct sources, i.e. the Afghans, the Pakhtoons living outside Pakistan and the Pakhtoons within Pakistan. According to Afghan official sources, Pakhtoonistan broadly comprises two provinces of Pakistan, i.e. North-West Frontier and Baluchistan. In other words it extends from Baluchistan in the south to Chitral and Gilgit in the north. According to another version, the Pakhtoon leaders in Pakistan, like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Wali Khan, explained that to them Pakhtoonistan had always meant the existing province of NWFP which should be renamed after the Pakhtoons and granted autonomy within Pakistan.

3. The total area of Pakhtoonistan is nearly 39,259 square miles. Politically, the area is divided into two sections—the tribal territory and the settled districts. Though language has been described as the most "practical touchstone of identity" of the people, there is a lacuna in Pakhtoonistan. Almost all people in Pakhtoonistan speak Pushto or Pakhto, but in some places, which are not inha­bited by the Pakhtoons, the language of the people is not Pushto. Hence, it evident that all people in Pakhtoonistan do not speak Pushto or Pakhto. In view of the importance of the Pakhtoonistan issue in foreign policy adopted by Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is neces­sary to analyse in some detail the positions taken by the two countries.

Afghanistan Case

4. The claims of the Afghans are based on the assumption that the Pakhtoons are akin to them from the ethnic, linguistic, geographical, historical as well as traditional points of view. Their main contention is that Afghanistan accepted the Durand agreement under duress as Amir Abdur Rahman had been operating under several internal and external constraints while negotiating with the British. The line drawn in accordance with that treaty was invalid, by which, the Afghans argued, their blood brothers had been forcibly separated. Second, as the British Government in India has ceased to exist, they also contend that the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1921 is null and void. Thus, they have laid claim to all areas between the Durand Line and the River Indus.[xviii] 5. At the time of partition, the fate of the North-West Frontier province was left undecided, pending a 'referendum'. The Afghan government indicated that under no circumstances it would accept the outcome of the 'referendum' as a fair means of resolving the problem. Afghanistan's argument is that the decision on the `referendum' was taken unilaterally by the British government. But a decision, in order to be valid, should be taken by all the concerned parties in mutual consultation with one another. More­over, it was pleaded that the Pakhtoons were given the limited choice to join either India or Pakistan only and not the option to unite with their motherl

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