Pak – Afghan relations need reorientation



February 19, 2022

Ambassador Alam Brohi talks about a crucial factor of Pak – Afghan relations need reorientation

The Pak – Afghan relations need reorientation and the recent visit of the National Security Advisor to Kabul has raised more questions than answers. Officially, the main objective of the visit was to discuss with Afghan leadership the humanitarian requirements, and Pakistan’s proposals for strengthening economic engagements to help Afghanistan tackle financial challenges. However, Moeed Yusuf’s dash to Kabul in the midst of cropping differences with the Afghan Interim Government over the border fencing; the escalation of attacks on Pakistan’s security forces by the TTP and Baloch dissidents; the growth of smuggling of currency and goods across the border was underscored by more serious political and strategic issues.
Pak-Afghan relations have all along been complex and troublesome irrespective of who holds sway in Kabul. However, both the countries are condemned by geography to co-exist. The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had once rightly described Pakistan and Afghanistan as ‘Siamese Twins’ which could not be separated from each other. Pakistan has a long border of some 2600 kilometers with Afghanistan and thousands of closely connected Pashtun families residing astride the Durand line. They are interlinked with each other in blood relationship, cultural and civilizational moors and historic heritage.
Afghanistan, being a landlocked country, has been chronically dependent on the Seaports of Pakistan. The transit trade is guaranteed through mutual agreements which Pakistan has been following in the spirit of good neighborliness. From 1947 to this day, Pakistan never tried to create hurdles in the foreign trade of Afghanistan or withhold any of the facilities as provided in the bilateral agreements. As the successor state to the British India, Pakistan also respects the Durand line as the international border between the two countries. The Durand Treaty was last formalized by the Afghan leaders with the British India in 1923 in Rawalpindi. Unfortunately, after Pakistan’s emergence as a sovereign country, the Afghan leaders started showing strong reservations about the Durand Line.
Historically, the Afghans have been feeling affinity with Pakistan. However, the Afghan political leadership straddling on both sides of the Durand line harbored a deep seated ambition to bring the Pukhtun nation under one flag in a greater Pukhtunistan. The protagonists of this political ambition under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan living in self-exile in Afghanistan waged a sustained struggle that continued until the Saur revolution. The Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 overtook this movement.
This Pak – Afghan relations need reorientation movement deeply undermined the sanctity of the Durand line as the international border. Rather it depicted it as the symbol of the dissection of the Afghan nation into two halves rendering it an anathema to the Afghan population. No Government in Kabul can publicly talk of the Durand line as the legitimate international border between the two countries. This fallacious interpretation of the Durand line has been historically at the core of friction between the two countries.
Pakistan supported a negotiated resolution of the Afghan imbroglio, and played a significant role in the success of the Doha talks between the Taliban and the US. Pakistan also tried to impress upon Taliban to participate in the intra Afghan parleys to find a peaceful end of the war based on cessation of hostilities and a mutually acceptable power sharing formula. But the intransigence of the Ashraf Ghani regime and the US haste for withdrawal upset the applecart.
For the past four decades, Afghanistan has been at the centre of the skewed Pakistan-US relationship notwithstanding the cross-purpose strategic interests both countries have had in that country. The American goals in Afghanistan were transactional driven by specific motivations while Pakistan, as ordained by the geography and the common and inter-related Pukhtun tribes straddled on both sides of the border, has permanent political, economic and strategic interests in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has had a love-and-hate relationship with the Afghan Taliban since the emergence of this militia on the political landscape of Afghanistan. The Taliban in their previous rule, though not hostile to Pakistan, were very assertive to take independent decisions as sovereign rulers of Afghanistan. They defied Pakistan’s counsels on many occasions despite the fact that they owed a great deal to its moral and material support to ascend to political power.
During the American war, Pakistan’s love-and-hate relationship with certain sections of the militia survived the vicissitudes of the conflict and external pressures though underlined by cross political and strategic purposes. The Pakistani political and military leadership was convinced of the ultimate return of Taliban to Kabul with a bigger share in the political power. While in war, the Taliban could ill afford the hostility of Pakistan, though they had strong causes of resentment. This enforced political and strategic cohabitation could last as long as the partners needed each other.
The Pakistani leadership should have understood that their relationship with Taliban was bound to take a new form on the day the Taliban walked in Kabul as de facto rulers of Afghanistan. After 15 August 2021, we were dealing with the rulers of a free, independent and sovereign country notwithstanding the goodwill, hospitality and courtesy shown by them. They have their own political and strategic compulsions. We should have lowered our expectations about strategic depth or the amenability of the new Afghan rulers to any country’s condescending dealing or political and strategic hauteur.
We could help Taliban tide over the transactional political and economic difficulties. However, we needed not to be their mouthpiece. The world community would come round to deal with the new Afghan rules as shown by the conclave in Norway. The contentious issues between the two countries including Durand line, border fencing, border policing, transit visa, transit and border trade, smuggling and drug trafficking, TTP, Baloch National Army needed to be dealt with in a more judicious way between the two sovereign countries. We need the goodwill of the new Afghan rulers and not their hostility.
The country is swarming with militant groups that have already shown to be posing perennial existential perennial threats to Pakistan as well as neighbouring countries and also the wider region. This threat is looming large and in many places it has materialised causing mayhem and increasing worries of the global community. It is now very obvious that Pakistan is more vulnerable to these threats than any other country in the region and the country once more has it has become the target of terrorism that has brought back the uncertainty in the polity that is already under extreme economic distress having disastrously eroded the financial viability of the people. TW

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Alam Brohi is former Ambassador of Pakistan and was associated with Foreign Service of Pakistan


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