Many of today's pervasive and intractable security and nation-building dilemmas issue from the dissonance between the prescribed model of territorially bounded nation-states and the imprisonment of postcolonial polities in territorial straitjackets bequeathed by colonial cartographies. With a focus on the Durand Line, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the epicenter of the prolonged war in the region, this article explores the enduring ramifications of the mutually constitutive role of colonialism and modern law. The global reach of colonial rule reordered subjects and reconfigured space. Fixed territorial demarcations of colonial possessions played a pivotal role in this process. Nineteenth century constructs of international law, geography, geopolitics, and the frontier, fashioned in the age of empire, were interwoven in the enabling frame that made the drawing of colonial borders like the Durand Line possible. Imperatives of colonial rule and compulsions of imperial rivalries positioned these demarcations that often cut across age-old cultural and historical social units.
Postcolonial states inherited these demarcations and, with them, a host of endemic political and security afflictions. Modern international law, which in its incipient state lent license to colonial rule, today legitimates colonial cartographies, thereby accentuating postcolonial dilemmas of nation-building and territorial integrity. By freeze-framing inherited colonial borders, international law forces disparate people to circumscribe their political aspirations within predetermined territorial bounds, precluding political and territorial arrangements in tune with their aspirations. To silence the questions that rise from colonial territorial demarcations, international law raises the specter of disorder. It seeks to preserve order, even an unjust and dysfunctional one. In the process, international law betrays a deeper affliction that plagues it - its refusal to squarely face its complicity in colonial domination accentuates its inability to resolve today's international disputes procreated by colonial cartographies.
Tayyab Mahmud, Colonial Cartographies, Postcolonial Borders, and Enduring Failures of International Law: The Unending Wars Along the Afghanistan-Pakistan Frontier, 36 BROOK. J. INT'L L. 1 (2011).