By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Afghanistan shares 1400 km border with Pakistan. Apart from geographic contiguity, 42% Pashtuns of 28 million population of Afghanistan share religious, ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties with 15.2 million Pashtuns of 174 million population of Pakistan. Pashtuns living in close vicinity of Durand Line have blood relations and the border line has never acted as a barrier in their cross border movement. Pashtuns from both sides have been jointly fighting all foreign invaders and are doing the same even now. Within Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are in majority and have suffered the most and are still suffering at the hands of occupation forces and ANSF. Plight of the people of FATA is equally pathetic since they are caught up between the crossfire of extremists, Pak security forces, drones and occasional cross border attacks.
While Pakistan feels justified to consider Afghanistan as its natural ally, yet despite their so many proximities, the relationship between the two cannot be termed friendly. At times it reached deteriorating levels because of certain contentious issues. Gen Ziaul Haq had however won the hearts and minds of the Afghans by standing up to the Soviet challenge and providing all out support to the Mujahideen. The only time when Pakistan’s western border became genuinely safe was during the five years Taliban rule; so much so that Pakistan’s Army chief Gen Mirza Beg floated the concept of strategic depth.
Afghanistan being a landlocked country dependent on Pakistan for its economic development and transit trade to access international markets, decided on territorial expansion as a way out to the sea. Former Soviet Union and Afghanistan encouraged separatist elements in Balochistan and NWFP and Kabul rejected Durand Line as an international border. It took up the issue of Pakhtunistan to claim more territory stretching as far as the Arabian Sea. The demand for Pakhtunistan also serves as an effective tool the Kabul regimes could employ for diverting the attention of their people from domestic chaos and from the backwardness at home. Due to Afghan propaganda against Durand Line’s validity the border remains insecure and more threatened today with greater challenges for Pakistan. Porous nature of border results in illegal border crossings, illicit drug trafficking and arms smuggling.
India’s involvement in the internal affairs of Pakistan since its inception to create instability in the country through Afghanistan also remains a core problematic issue in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. The Kautiliyan concept of neighbor’s neighbor being a friend and the neighbor being an enemy, applies here in the case of Pakistan’s neighbors. India has always supported Afghanistan’s propaganda themes against Pakistan.
Pakistan has always considered Afghanistan as a major component of its security and under the changed security environment is now desperate to secure its western border by having a friendly regime in Kabul and to explore new energy supplies. Despite Kabul regime’s provocations bordering hostility, Pakistan behaved maturely and has been extending political, technical and economic support. Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani also offered to impart training to ANA. Pakistan is engaged in number of development projects in Afghanistan. It has so far completed the reconstruction of a road from Torkham to Jalalabad in the eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan and is now remodeling the road to turn it into a dual carriage highway. Other than trade sector, Pakistan is also engaged in building a hospital in Kabul, known as the Jinnah Hospital Complex. A department at the Kabul University called Allama Iqbal Faculty of Arts is gifted by the people of Pakistan.
Both sides agreed to enhance cooperation in transit trade, reconstruction, and technical projects. They agreed to develop the communication network, boost trade to $15 billion a year by 2015 and boost cooperation in education with exchange programs and doubling scholarships from 1,000 to 2,000. In agriculture, creation of a Pakistan-Afghanistan food bank is under consideration, while in the energy sector joint strategies for early implementation of trans-Afghan energy projects were agreed, with particular focus on CASA-1000 and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline. However, despite the commitments volume of investment and reconstruction/development works have been on the lower side giving reason to the Afghans to grieve and an excuse to India to fan anti-Pakistan sentiments.
After his re-election in 2009, a positive change came in the attitude of President Karzai and he started leaning on Pakistan for political support. A Joint Declaration was signed in 2010 for developing roads, rail and bus services and air connectivity and upgrading the existing facilities. Priority was given to completing Peshawar-Jalalabad Expressway and feasibility study of Peshawar-Jalalabad rail link. Pakistan and Afghanistan are also planning to establish a Silk Route, CEOs Forum and Pakistan-Afghanistan Reconstruction Consortium for Reconstruction and Development purposes. Both countries considered setting up economic and industrial zones. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project has been inked.
Pak-Afghan relations that were steadily improving once again got tense as a result of heating up of western border in 2011 by Fazlullah led militants who had fled from Swat in 2009. Afghan regime has given sanctuaries to Fazlullah and his band in Kunar and Nuristan from where these terrorists duly supported by RAW and RAAM have launched several cross border attacks in Bajaur, Mehmand, Dir and Chitral. It has triggered blame game.
The worst scenario for Pakistan is hostile India on its east and pro-India Afghanistan on its western border posing twin threat to its security, which it cannot afford. In all the wars with India, while the people of FATA defended the northwestern border, Afghanistan stayed neutral. The situation may be different in any future conflict since the TTP remote controlled by foreign agencies and NA heavy government in Kabul indebted to India and nurturing an old grudge against Pakistan for helping the Taliban in gaining power in 1996 will in all likelihood support India. Conversely, if the Taliban regain power, they would have little choice but to maintain friendly ties with Pakistan since they will have to contend with hostile Iran in the southwest, NA in northern Afghanistan, not so friendly China in northeast and Russia in the north.
Pakistan’s interests and policies in Afghanistan are still the same where Pakistan hopes to have a friendly and stable government, where it is not threatened by anti-Pakistan elements. However, for Pakistan there is serious competition, even challenges from other regional players already present in Afghanistan, one of them being India with so much investment in the country. So far, Pakistan and Afghanistan are collaborating in persuading the insurgents to accept peace through reconciliatory process. For both countries a regional and accommodating approach is essential for promoting and realizing potential friendly relationship. However, since the initiative has been wrested by the Taliban, they refuse to accept a settlement on American terms. Their chief demand before making peace with the government is the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. India is acting as a spoiler and is continuing to devise strategies to keep Afghanistan and Pakistan destabilized and the two neighbors on warpath.
Notwithstanding his preference for India, Karzai realizes the importance of Pakistan and the influential role it can play in stabilizing Afghanistan. He can therefore ill-afford to buy animosity of Pakistan particularly when the US and its western allies have decided to pull out by end 2014 and the Taliban surge is on the rise. However, Pakistan should remain wary of Indo-Afghan strategic partnership. India’s growing involvement in Afghanistan is a threat and increasingly destabilizing factor for Pakistan’s security. Pakistan should continue convincing the US and Afghan regime into limiting India’s role in Afghanistan and should also increase its volume of investment and reconstruction/development works to be able to compete with other competitors and make a place for itself.