Pakistan And Afghanistan

Pakistan And Afghanistan

Written By : ACM Kaleem Saadat
Afghanistan is Pakistan's neighbor to the northwest and its bridge to Central Asia. Pakistan shares a long, albeit, unrecognized border with it. One can choose or lose friends around the world when required but one cannot choose one's neighbors. So Pakistan is stuck between India and Afghanistan- both unfriendly and hostile. Indian hostility is understandable but Afghan, not so easily.
It is a fact of geography that Pakistan and Afghanistan have been neighbors since the former gained its independence but the people of the border areas have known and traded with one another for over 5000 years. Afghanistan has been and continues to be a conglomeration of tribes constituted by fiercely independent people. They have beaten back big powerful empires like Britain, Soviet Union and the United States. While, that may be a big accomplishment, they failed to evolve a peaceful and civil society. The Afghans have generally been traders, smugglers and fighters for hire. All efforts to unite them in the shape of a nation have failed. The latest attempt in this direction by the U.S. post 9/11, failed miserably. For this failure, both Afghanistan and the U.S. blame Pakistan but in reality they just want to make the latter a scapegoat. It would be in order to take stock of Pak-Afghan relations over the last seven decades and see who did what?

Given religious, ethnic and cultural affinity, it was expected that these countries would be natural friends and they would have brotherly relations but that has not happened. Afghanistan was the only country that, post-independence, opposed Pakistan's entry into the U.N. The reason for this hostility was the purported dispute about the Durand Line, which was not demarcated by Pakistan but the British, in 1893 with the then Amir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rehman Khan. When convenient, Afghanistan still raises the issue of its non-acceptance of this border. On this pretext, Afghanistan has followed the precept of "enemy of my enemy is my friend" and has sided with India, with which it shares nothing- border, ethnicity, religion or culture! The Afghans supported the secessionist slogans of the erstwhile National Awami Party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Afghanistan stayed neutral during the Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971 and remained by and large peaceful till 1978, when Saur Revolution materialized. The subsequent events and the then Super Power rivalries resulted in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on 24 December 1979. This became the most cataclysmic event of Pak-Afghan history. The Soviets installed the puppet regime of Babrak Karmal and the U.S. and its allies jumped into the fray to avenge their defeat in Vietnam four years earlier.

At the time Pakistan was ruled by General Zia-ul-Haq, who was considered a pariah by the West, because he had overthrown an elected government in 1977. The exigency of the Soviet invasion, caused the West to forget Gen Zia's past sins and propped him up as a leader of a front-line state standing up to deny the Soviet Union's desire to reach the warm waters of Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The invasion, led to the exodus of millions of Afghans, who poured into Pakistan to seek refuge from the war between the occupation (Russian) and resistance (tribal) forces. Pakistan was not in a position to take on this burden but the West reassured Pakistan that they would share its burden by providing financial aid. Till-then-beleaguered General Zia, suddenly became a sought-after head of state. A stream of foreign bigwigs made a beeline to his court offering anything and everything to help the Afghans fight the Soviet forces. Pakistan trained 250,000 Afghan 'freedom-fighters' in scores of 'Madrassahs' funded by Western money. The Mujahideen, forerunners of Al-Qaeda, Taliban and the ISIS, were truly born as the West's proxies.

At its maximum, the Afghan Refugees numbered four million. They were housed in refugee camps financed by the West and administered by Pakistan and UNHCR. Military equipment and aid was also restored to Pakistan. The Afghans started to change the demography of KPK and Balochistan. They became laborers, transporters, servants and traders outside the confines of the refugee camps. Peshawar and Quetta, which were till then peaceful, pristine cantonment cities with their own unique culture and traditions, became dusty and overcrowded. Since Pakistan had joined their enemies, the Soviet Union and KGB decided to take their revenge from Pakistan by sponsoring terrorism in cities and markets. For a couple of billion dollars worth of aid and equipment and bestowing legitimacy on Gen Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistani society paid a huge price and started to crumble due to the social, economic and chaotic load of the Afghan Refugees and the war in Afghanistan.

Many people benefited from the war and hosting of the refugees but Pakistan and its vast majority suffered beyond imagination. All along Pakistan has attempted to help create a peaceful Afghanistan. This is a legitimate national interest. Every nation wishes to have peaceful neighbors. However, the geo-political interests of the U.S. and India and their latent hostility towards Pakistan, has always ascribed sinister motivations to Pakistani stance towards Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani both showed a forked tongue. They feigned friendliness when on Pakistani soil but were vitriolic in Delhi and Kabul. They perhaps learnt this diplomatic art from British Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers and American Secretaries of State and Presidents. These days, very few nations are willing to allow a couple of thousand refugees to enter their country but they are all critical of Pakistani efforts to repatriate millions back to their contiguous homeland. They brandish the term 'voluntary return' as the criterion for doing it. Sadly, this condition doesn't seem to apply when they deal with their own refugees.

Afghanistan sustains itself on transit trade through Pakistan, which is also their bread basket. For a long time Afghans have enjoyed visa-free travel to Pakistan. Pakistan has contributed to the infrastructure development there. Despite its own resource constraints Pakistan undertook to contribute to social sector development there. Jinnah Hospital and Rehman Baba School and Hostel in Kabul, and a Kidney Hospital in Jalalabad are the examples of this. These projects face difficulties due to the security situation there and Afghan authorities' unwillingness to grant exemption from customs duty on equipment to be installed in these entities. The Afghan elite, including Mr. Karzai, have sought shelter and built properties and run businesses here. In collusion with corrupt Pakistani officials, they obtained Pakistani identity cards and passports and traveled with them, often tarnishing Pakistan's image. When Kabul was occupied by NATO forces in 2001, a fresh wave of refugees and Taliban came to Pakistan. The former aggravating the social problems and the latter earning the ire of victors in Kabul, who threatened to exercise their right of hot 'pursuit'. They went on to do that many times but most evidently in Salala and Abottabad. They ignored that fact that Pakistan didn't invite anyone. In fact the Afghan Taliban were the inspiration for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which have wreaked havoc in Pakistan through their terror activities. Also, Afghanistan has given refuge to TTP leadership and fugitives and have failed to arrest them and surrender them to Pakistan, even though they have conceived and controlled terrorist attacks from there against Pakistan. Despite, all this hostility and mischief, Pakistan has sincerely tried to create conditions to make the Afghan Taliban and Government to arrive at a negotiated arrangement for a shared and peaceful future.

Thus it is evident that while Pakistan has always extended a hand of friendship and support to the Afghan people and government but the latter always abused our friendship and hospitality. Pakistan has suffered enough due to the various Afghan wars, of their own making and it is time to say enough is enough. Our national interest demands that all Afghans should go back to their dear homeland as soon as possible. Let their need for 'dignity' not delay the date of their repatriation. We should not continue to suffer due to mischief and follies of the others. This government deserves credit for doing this and they need to persevere till the last one goes home!