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Pashtun tribes’ life and security along the Durand Line: interview with Ahmad Khan Mumtaz

by Giuliano Bifolchi

The Durand Line is the inheritance (or the heavy negative consequence) of European colonialism and has characterized the region where the Pashtun tribes have always lived. In 1893 Mortimer Durand, a British diplomat of the Indian Civile Service, and Abdur Rahman Khan, the Afghan Emir, established the borders between Afghanistan and British India fixing a demarcation line that nowadays separates Afghanistan and Pakistan.

If in the past during the ‘Great Game’ the Durand Line separated the Russian – British sphere of influences, in the contemporary era this demarcation line divides Pashtun tribes and families. We met Ahmad Khan Mumtaz, CEO of the Afghan Mumtaz Group of Companies and Chief of Ali-Khel Zazai Tribe on both sides of the Durand Line, to discuss with him the current situation in the region and prospects.

The Durand Line separates Pashtun tribes between Afghanistan and Pakistan (Source: Khamaa Press)

How can you evaluate the security situation along the Durand Line?

“The security situation along the Durand line is very tense and liquid. We have Pashtun tribes living on both sides and either the Afghan or the Pakistani Governments are involved in the region and the tribal internal affairs.

Since the 1980s this area has registered the presence of Afghan and foreign mujahideen and training camps. Therefore, Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan have faced issues related to this phenomenon. It is important to understand that Afghan mujahideen and Taliban belong to Pashtun tribes that live on both sides of the Duran line.

These tribes follow the Pashtunwali (tribal code or traditional lifestyle of the Pashtun people) which considers foreigners as ‘special guests’ who should be honoured and protected from external threats. Hence, since the Pashtun are guest lovers and friendly people and they follow their tribal code, they have welcomed foreign fighters from different parts of the world (Arabs including Abdullah Azam, Osama Bin Ladin, Ayman Alzwahiri, Uzbeks including Tayer Yaldash, Juma Namangani, Chechens, Ugurs including Abdul Haq, Kashmiris, Punjabis and some westerns from North America and Europe). This is an essential element that should be considered when you want to understand one of the reasons why foreign fighters have been able to establish their activities and organizations in our territory.

Besides, I should mention the fact that since the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union several foreign fighters and foreign Intelligence services have been involved in Afghan domestic dynamics influencing both sides of the Durand line. Nowadays we are still experiencing foreign influence in our region and all the tribes in the Afghan and Pakistani regions along the Durand line have significantly suffered from this condition.”.

Ahmad Khan Mumtaz, CEO of the Afghan Mumtaz Group of Companies and Chief of Ali-Khel Zazai Tribe on both sides of the Durand Line

Due to the Durand line, Pashtun tribes have lived separated between Afghanistan and Pakistan. How are the general living standard conditions in the area? How different Pashtun tribes can be in contact? 

“Although the Durand line cut off the tribes and created artificial borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan  Pashtun tribes and families who live in this region have the same living standards, culture, customs, and code of conduct (Pashtunwali). For instance, there is no division for my tribe the Zazai (from the Pashto word ځاځی; plural ځاځي, also spelt Zazi or Jaji) because we live on both sides of the Durand line in Paktya, Khost and Kurram, Orakzai and North Waziristan.

This means that my tribesmen have their breakfast in Aryub Zazai in Paktya or Maidan Zazai in Khost, their lunch with their cousins in Parachinar in Kurram or Miramshah in North Waziristan, and then they come back home for dinner. This is the daily routine for all tribes on both sides of the Durand Line.”.

How does Islamabad manage the issue related to the Pashtun tribes in the region? 

I would like also to stress that Islamabad is, directly and indirectly, involved in the region since Pakistan is carefully monitoring both of the side of the Durand Line, especially the Pashtun uprising which demands a free Pashtun land.” 

Since last year we have heard and read news regarding the US-Taliban peace deal. During my meeting and interview with Afghan politicians and experts of the region, I have often heard that the US Administration decided to talk with only a group of the Taliban. Can you comment on the US – Taliban peace deal and the Taliban involvement in domestic politics?

“The U.S. and Afghan Taliban peace deal is a bumpy road. There are still issues that are on both sides as far as the Afghan Taliban are still under the influence of their foreign affiliates. The second and third generations of these foreign affiliates have in some cases transformed their friendship with the Taliban into a strong relationship thanks to marriages on both sides.

Based on my information from my Tribal sources, since the beginning of the Doha talks, these foreign affiliates were indirectly onboard backing the Afghan Taliban on every step.”.

We always look at Afghanistan as an unstable country characterized by different problems. I personally believe that Afghanistan is something more than an ‘international problem’ because your country might offer interesting economic opportunities apart from amazing people. Do you agree with this idea? Can you provide us with info about possible investments or business opportunities in the AfPak borders? 

“Indeed, I agree because we have a lot to offer for investments which will be very beneficial for not only the tribes living on both sides of the Durand line but to the whole region.”.

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