Google Maps might be able to solve a decades-old border dispute in Asia

9 May 2017

Protest at the Afghan-Pakistani border. Image: Asianet-Pakistan/Shutterstock

Aside from just telling us directions, Google Maps is now being used to solve a decades-old border dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Lines drawn on a map 70 years ago continue to be a diplomatic nightmare for the nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Following its independence from the UK in 1947, Pakistan’s 2,400km-long western border with its neighbour has been hotly contested, with both claiming sovereignty over territory both sides of the divide.

Last week, this dispute resulted in bloodshed as eight civilians were killed in a firefight after a Pakistani census team went into villages claimed by Afghanistan.

Now, in an effort to solve the issue, both nations are turning to Google Maps and GPS to help define where exactly the border lies.

In the past, Google has found itself drawn into similar international disputes over placement of borders, leaving many areas of the global map with broken lines to indicate that they are contested.

In 2010, the company was forced to quickly respond to outrage from the government of Costa Rica after it appeared to wrongfully credit territory to Central American neighbour, Nicaragua.

The matter was considered of such importance that the Nicaraguan government pledged to take Costa Rica to the International Court of Justice.

Google may offer solution

According to The Guardian, while Afghanistan’s border shows it officially stretching along the so-called Durand Line, its real border should be at the river Indus that currently flows through Pakistan.

How looking at online maps will help to solve the dispute remains to be seen, but the two parties agree that Google’s mapping offers the best hope.

“After negotiations, both sides have agreed that a geological survey should be conducted,” said Abdul Razeq, police chief of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province.

“Technical teams of both countries will use GPS and Google Maps as well as other means to get the answer.”

Previous efforts to solidify the border by Pakistan have resulted in a reaction from Afghanistan, despite villagers on both sides paying little attention to where it lies.

Protest at the Afghan-Pakistani border. Image: Asianet-Pakistan/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic