Former diplomat Rajiv Dogra’s latest book explores historical wrongs, colonial injustice and a heart-wrenching tale of a country’s misfortune.
His unflinching desire to write on what he thinks was a historical wrong and a deceit against Afghanistan prompted former diplomat Rajiv Dogra to come up his latest work, Durand’s Curse: A Line Across the Pathan Heart. The book is a heart-wrenching tale of Afghanistan’s misfortunes and the happenings which he considers ‘grave injustice to the people of the country’.
Dogra, who was the Indian Ambassador to Italy and Romania, and Consul General to Karachi, Pakistan, speaks to us in detail about the book, the impact he wishes it creates, and more.
On what Durand’s Curse means to him, Dogra says, “If it (my work) leads to correcting a historical wrong, it would mean endless satisfaction. Even otherwise, there is a sense of catharsis because I could discover a long hidden colonial injustice against people.”
He adds, “The Pashtuns have suffered from its ill-effects for over a century now. We don’t realise this, but it has also affected the region and the world. In fact, the terrorism that torments the world today can, in an important way, be traced back to the British grab of 40,000-square miles of the Afghan territory in 1893. Equally important was the extremely labourious and diligent pursuit that led me to discover how the British had hidden the deception from the world so far. So, getting to the bottom of a historical deceit, and writing the Durand’s Curse became an all-consuming exercise for me.”
Dogra also claims that finding the theme for the book was not a long hunt, “In fact, the subject suggested itself as around that time Pakistan had started to put up a fence along the Durand Line. This led to my curiosity about the entire affair. Why was Pakistan fencing an area which was not a border?”
Having held top positions in multiple fields, and having travelled across the world, Dogra had the opportunity to witness several issues and incidents from multiple perspectives. He elaborates, “Travelling is an invaluable learning experience. You meet people who have made history and see places that have been witness to history. The physicality of these encounters last. Even if you’re not in the business of writing, you become a participant in the wisdom that the world has to offer.”
He continues, “Like a honey bee, you are free to make the choice about which flower you want to source your honey from. The choices you make in terms of the sources of your information are critical to your own development. And that determines your ability to understand and interpret sensitive issues.”
Speaking about what people can expect from his work and on the kind of impact he wishes the book creates, Dogra opines, “Afghanistan is at a crossroads once again. It is painful to see these brave people suffer so much. The Taliban control 30 per cent of its territory and threaten to expand their control further. Taking advantage of this flux, Pakistan wants to make the Durand Line into an international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. If that happens, it will be grave injustice, and my book explains why.”
He adds, “I have provided enough evidence to prove that the Durand Line was a temporary arrangement. There is now a need to see all that evidence and for the world to correct a historical wrong. The best solution will be for the international community to recognise that the Pashtuns don’t accept the Durand Line, and that their divided families want to be reunited. Moreover, I have written this book in free flow, like a story, so it should appeal to all people and all ages.”
Sharing with us the research he did for the book, the author says, “This was a formidable undertaking. There is hardly any historical record to be found in Afghanistan, because repeated wars have destroyed most of it. Fortunately, the internet today offers great opportunity to seek and read old material. But you have to diligently search and look for the right things. That can be back-breaking work, but the rewards can be most gratifying. There are also good books to be found in some libraries. The rest is for you to connect the dots.”
Discussing his interest in literature and the writers he follows, Dogra, who is also a television commentator and an artist, says, “It really depends on the mood and need of the moment. For example, I read dozens of books on Afghanistan, when I was researching for Durand’s Curse. As a matter of fact, I had practically read every word written in the English language on diplomacy and wars relating to Afghanistan in the 19th century. But from a literary point of view, I enjoyed reading Rudyard Kipling’s descriptions the most. Now, I am back to reading fiction again. Or rather, re-reading fiction because I enjoy the permanence of words written well. They give equal pleasure even if you have read them over and over again. The book I have just finished re-reading is The Biographer’s Moustache by Kingsley Amis.”
Dogra, who finds current day reports on international affairs mostly grim, wishes to see and read more positive news coming out from the world. “Instead, we have the situation in North Korea which is worrying and unpredictable. What is needed in a situation like this is the calm diplomatic touch. That alone can bring that region back from the brink. In that sense I think our Ambassador in China and his counterparts there have shown how deft handling can resolve a serious crisis,” he muses.
On a concluding note, Dogra reveals plans for his forthcoming projects. “There are a thousand projects that excite me. There is still a novel that I am formally contracted to write. But there is also the temptation of writing just one more book of non-fiction. An idea has already begun to germinate in my mind. But let’s see what the future brings. And as they say, it is best sometimes to hum Que Sera Sera and leave the rest to your publisher!” he says.