Pakistan and Afghanistan have experienced huge rise and fall in their relations during the last 50 years. With many issues like Durand Line, terrorism and influence of Pashtuns in the region still pending, Pakistan needs a strategy of restraint to have better relations with Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a very strange relation for the last many years. Both countries have more than often remained at loggerheads due to one issue or another. The biggest bone of contention between them is the existence and recognition of Durand Line, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which was established in 1893. The agreement allowed the free movement of the, especially during season changes. This gave Afghanistan a chance to refuse to accept Durand Line as a formal border thus making it a sensitive issue. One of the reasons why Afghanistan were not willing to accept Durand Line as an international border was that the dominant Pashtun population living on both sides of the border had a vision of a Greater Pakhtunistan comprising of the Pashtun population living on both sides.
Having said that, there were times when both countries had warmth in their relations especially during the cold war, which witnessed huge support lent by Pakistan to Afghanistan in shape of arms, ammunition and man power to fight against the Soviet invasion. Under the guidance of US, Pakistan assisted Afghanistan in every possible manner and helped them in ousting Soviet forces from Afghanistan. After the cold war, Afghanistan plunged into civil war with Taliban, a group consisting of Pashtun tribesmen who entered Pakistan as refugees during the cold war, studied in different madressahs in Pakistan and then went back to fight Soviets, and Northern Alliance consisting of fighters from other clans. Ultimately, Talibans defeated the Northern Alliance and established their rule in Afghanistan.
As majority of the Talibans had lived or were trained in Pakistan and were mentored by the ISI, strong brotherly relations were soon established between the two countries. However, after the tragic incident of 11th September, 2001, famously known as 9/11, and subsequent US invasion to eliminate Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of September 11th attacks, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan turned bitter. From this point onwards, both countries shared series of allegations and counter allegations of cross border terrorism and betrayal in the war against terrorism.
Incidents of terrorism on both sides of the border also played a role in failing any trust building measures that both countries took during this time. Afghanistan has often alleged that Pakistan and its intelligence agencies are supporting the Talibans, who are carrying out attacks on Afghan and NATO forces in Afghanistan. They have always pointed fingers towards ISI for providing safe havens to Haqqani group, who they allege is attacking their interests from Pakistan. American attack and subsequent killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan did not help either as it gave Afghanistan a chance to strengthen their claim.
Pakistan, on the other hand has also claimed that the deadly suicide attacks in the tribal region and recent series of attacks on Pakistani forces deployed in the border area are being carried out with the assistance of Afghan officials. In this regard, Pakistan has also offered many times to seal the border between the two countries enabling both sides to avoid incidents of cross border terrorism, however, strangely enough, Afghanistan has always rejected this offer without giving any solid justification for this.
Another reason for sour relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the continuous desire shown by the military establishment of Pakistan to gain control and exercise their influence over Afghanistan. This adventurism from Pakistan’s side has always remained counterproductive and futile. It would be better that instead of trying to keep Afghanistan in our influence, we should concentrate more on the problems on our side and leave Afghanistan on its own.
The rhetoric of Brother Muslim Country has grown old now. It’s high time that we let Afghanistan exist as a sovereign independent state. We should increase our efforts to convince the Afghan government and international forces there to seal the border between the two countries. Afghanistan, on the other hand, has to realize that Pakistan is also suffering from the menace of terrorism and allegations will not help any of them. A better counter terrorism strategy should be made by both countries enabling them to avoid incidents, which ultimately lead to misunderstandings. – Waqas Iqbal
Writer is an entrepreneur & a teacher by professio.