I had tried to read ‘Return of a King’ by William Dalrymple before and quit it after reading half of the book. Since then I have been looking for a book with that talks about history of Afghanistan but without drifting much, in Indian context. Durand’s Curse turned out to be just the book I needed.
On the cover is what looks like a graveyard. There are three woman in all black too who could be widows, fatherless or brother-less. The picture portrays what the book inside has attempted to explain with all its facts. On the top is the book title but what catches attention is the subtitle- A Line Across The Pathan Heart. Until now I had never heard of any line as such and this one came out to be a surprise. The cover is achingly beautiful.
The book begins with an interesting sentence that represents the author’s surprise in the formation of Durand’s line. He says - it must have been he lucky stars, otherwise the ‘strongest man from Europe’ was not expecting the ‘Iron Amir of Afghanistan’ to wilt so readily.
The sentence by itself explains the great resolve of the Amir to not bend to any forces in while they were trying to annex portions of his land. However, the Amir, rather readily, decides to sign on the document in the formation of Durand’s line with no witness around.
In the first chapter after expressing his surprise Rajiv Dogra goes on to express the might and resolve of the Afghans that even Alexander had a tough time conquering.
Very famously he says- ‘May God keep you away from the venom of the cobra, the teeth of the tiger and the revenge of the Afghans.’
The author has strategically divided the book into several chapters. After giving a geographical account of the land he describes how it grabbed the attention of the British. And as it is said famously, wherever the British leave from, they leave a thousand issues to be resolved which leads to centuries of discord in the land. This is exactly what transpired in Afghanistan as well.
After continuous made-up threats and strengthening of the forces at the border of Afghanistan land the British tried to take over the land once and for all. Dogra gives the account of all three Anglo-Afghan wars fought between the two countries and each one resulted in a humiliating defeat of the British Army.
What the British couldn’t conquer they destroyed. Such was the case with Pashtun land as well. The Durand’s line which was initially meant to be a frontier and not a border, at the time of India’s partition forms a border for Pakistan. This line which was supposedly never agreed upon now divided the Pathans right in the middle. Durand spent 7 weeks in Afghanistan, that’s as much time as Radcliffe spent India to divide India into two. The only difference being Durand didn’t spent the time studying the land but looking for an opportunity to catch Amir at the right time to draw an arbitrary border across a very small map. The result was sloppy, to say the least.
In many cases, the Durand’s Line passed through their lands in such a way that there land which produced their food and where their animals grazed was now on one side of the line and that their house on the other side.
The sloppy work of dividing the land has caused us decades of trouble. The constant tension in the South-Asian subcontinent remains unresolved.
Dogra further proceeds to expose the different players in the game who are moving afghans as they were on the chess board. Pashtun, as Kashmir, remains a subject of much tension but those in power do not really care for peace until it keeps serving their purpose. There are many political anecdotes that Dogra gives towards the end which could help to put certain things in perspective now.
Rajiv Dogra has had an extensive career as a foreign service office which gives him great depth of circumstantial knowledge and familiarise with historical evidences. The book written by him is simple and factual. The narration is devoid of any intellectual nonsense, put together in simple understandable language.
The cover is beautiful but what takes the cake away is the descriptive content inside. For someone who does not know the root cause of the tension in Afghanistan and Pakistan are in for a great read. The language is simple and to the point.
The book is text heavy. There are things continually happening throughout the book. This is not a leisure read. Keep your annotation tools handy!
I am glad I came across this book. A must read!
Whom do I recommend this to
This book is for those who want to understand the current political scenario with the history in back end.
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