Thursday, 11 April 2013

Torkham and the Durand Line - Pakistan / Afghanistan

The truly outstanding feat of engineering that brought the railway through the Khyber Pass extends as far as Landi Kotal, the highest point on the pass. In 52 km the track contains 34 tunnels and 92 bridges. It is engineering at the limit of the day's technology.

The end of the line was also effectively the western limit of British influence and control. The Alfidis who control the pass would rise up, attack and occasionally slaughter those stationed in the fort. These days the fort is still there and the environment is just as precarious.

Landi Kotal railway station

I was fortunate to travel through the Pass at a time of relative calm. From Landi Kotal it is another 9K’s until you finally reach the Durand Line and the border crossing at Torkham.

The border post.
I was to spend some time over that horizon.

The Durand Line was named after Mortimer Durand, Foreign Secretary of colonial India. Demarcation was started in 1893 to establish a border and spheres of influence between Afghanistan and British India. It effectively created a buffer between the two powers in the Great Game, Russia and Britain, with the final section of the demarcation near the Khyber pass agreed in 1921.

Today the Durand Line is the 1,640 km border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, although its validity is still contested by the Afghan’s.

Since its inception it has been regarded as one of the most volatile and dangerous borders in the world. From high adventure in the Great Game through to cross border drone attacks today.

Torkham is smuggling central with anything and everything of value up for sale, and everyone is armed.

The area retains its reputation for danger and adventure and is for the moment off limits to all but the military and their contractors.