Pak-Afghan relations have never been cordial. There is a long history of mutual mistrust, suspicion and accusations of interference in internal affairs. How did this mistrust develop?
Most of the people are aware that Pakistan interferes in Afghan affairs but few know that it was Afghanistan that actually laid claim on the Pakhtun-populated areas of Pakistan and questioned the validity of the Durand Line after the partition plan was announced by the British.
In July 1947, the Afghans wrote to Lord Mountbatten to examine the possibility of annexing the Pakhtun areas with Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the only country that opposed Pakistan’s membership in the UN on the ground that before its membership “Pakistan should give an opportunity to the people of the NWFP to determine whether they wish to be independent or become a part of Pakistan”.
In North Waziristan, there had been an uprising, led by the Faqir of Ipi, from 1936 to 1947. After the creation Pakistan the Faqir did not accept the new country and an Afghan-supported jirga nominated him as amir of Pakhtunistan. A Pakhtunistan assembly was also constituted in Tirah, with the support of the Afghan government. Pakistan’s armed forces started an operation against the Faqir of Ipi. In 1949, a Pakistani aircraft, due to a navigational error, crossed the border and strafed a village in Khost. The Afghans reacted and a resolution was passed by parliament condemning the treaties signed between Afghanistan and British India and declaring the Durand Line a bogus and fictitious border. It was also decided to officially observe August 31 as ‘Pakhtunistan Day’ each year.
In the early 1950s, a post near Chaman was attacked and captured by Afghan forces. An army operation had to be launched to dislodge the intruders. The Afghans reacted violently to Pakistan’s One Unit Plan and in 1955 ransacked the Pakistan embassy in Kabul and consulates at Jalalabad and Kandahar. In 1960, based on intelligence reports that Jandul Khan was planning to annex Dir with Afghanistan, the Nawab of Dir and his son were arrested. In retaliation, Afghan forces attacked Bajaur and captured some territory, Pakistan had to launch a full-fledged operation to regain the lost territory.
In 1963, King Zahir Shah removed Sardar Daud, a staunch supporter of Pakhtunistan, and till 1973 Pakistan had a workable relationship with Afghanistan. During the 1965 and 1971 wars, the troops deployed on the western border were dispatched to the eastern front and Afghanistan did not take advantage of the unguarded border.
Pakistan then had a legitimate security concern and was looking for an opportunity to address this concern. The Saur Revolution provided that opportunity. After supporting the Afghan jihad, and sheltering Afghan refugees, the decision-makers thought they had time and chance to install a friendly government in Afghanistan that would resolve the Durand Line issue once and for all. Pakistan would have a secure western border and the Pakhtunistan issue would die down. However, both these objectives were not achieved.
The most friendly government of the Afghan Taliban did not recognise the Durand Line and till 9/11 laid claims to areas in the Mohmand Agency, and continued sending their medical teams to the Baizai and Khwazai areas to administer polio drops to Pakistani tribal children.
Afghanistan is no more a security concern for Pakistan because the Pakhtuns are now so well integrated into Pakistani society that the largest Pakhtun-populated city in the world is Karachi and not Peshawar or Kandahar. The negligible support for Pakhtunistan till the late seventies is no more there. At present, the Pakhtun would never opt for Pakhtunistan or like to be part of Afghanistan. The Pakhtun Afghan refugees, if given an option, would prefer being Pakistani citizens. This change has not been brought by our Afghan policy but by the internal environments.
Afghans are not likely to raise the Durand Line issue at any international forum, knowing well that legally and morally they are not in a position to win their case. The Durand Line is the only Afghan border which was signed by an Afghan ruler – Amir Abdur Rehman in 1893. Afghanistan’s northern borders with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan were demarcated by Russia and the British, without consulting Afghan rulers. The Iran- Afghanistan border was decided by Iran and Britain without informing Afghan rulers.
Afghanistan’s claim that our Pakhtun areas were part of Afghanistan, acceded to British under duress, is also weak since till 1879 there was no state by the name of Afghanistan. The British used the name ‘Afghanistan’ for the first time in the Gandamak Treaty. However, even with the Durand Line issue unresolved, Pakistan can develop friendly relations with Afghanistan.
Since Afghanistan is no more a security concern, Pakistan should not strive for an Afghan government of its choice. We should make all possible efforts to remove the Afghans’ perception that Pakistan has no respect for Afghan sovereignty. Let the people there elect their own government, Pakhtun or non-Pakhtun. Pakistan should support and facilitate the Afghan peace process.
Fata should be mainstreamed on a priority basis. This will help with border management, and deny sanctuaries to the terrorists. The fact that India has always had more influence in Afghanistan should be accepted, Taliban rule being an exception. Pakistan should take positive friendly steps to counter and balance India’s influence. We should also develop better relations with Afghan security forces; offer to train them, conduct joint military exercises and other steps to bridge the trust deficit. More frequent interactions between the parliamentarians of both countries should also be planned.
More than three million refugees have been accommodated by Pakistan for almost 35 years but instead of that creating goodwill for Pakistan, meddling in Afghan affairs has contributed to immense hatred for Pakistan in Afghanistan.
People-to-people relations need to be established, facilitating Afghan students who are studying in colleges and universities of Pakistan. For medical treatment Pakistan is the first choice for Afghans; steps to facilitate them should be taken. Cricket matches, combined cultural events, literary festivals and other social events should also be encouraged. A stable Afghanistan is in the national interest of Pakistan.
The writer is a retired brigadier.