‘Snakes in sleeves’; Pak-Afghan relations
With all generosity, Pakistan is blamed for much that is wrong with the Afghanistan of today. It is conveniently held responsible for supporting terrorism on account of its ties with the Afghan Taliban.
The notion has been explicitly exploited by the archrival India in attaining the sympathies of international community especially in the post 9/11 scenario as well as in establishing a foothold in the neighbourhood of Pakistan. Little light though has been shed on how the Muslim brethren have stabbed the newly formed in its neighbourhood since day one.
Afghanistan may not have been entirely happy with the demarcation of its border with the British India, however, the prospect of losing British subsidies kept the ruler of the landlocked state; King Abdur Rehman from resisting the decision much, for half a century. Unless those economic benefits vain, with the end of colonial rule and the emergence of Pakistan. The North Western Frontier Province was one province in the region that was acceded in the newly formed state by referendum and the tribal jirga around Durand Line willingly transferred their allegiance to the newly formed state. Afghanistan, despite that, demanded for the creation of an independent “Pashtunistan” framing that as a demand of the nationalist Pashtuns. What the state aspired actually was for the separation and incorporation of the Pashtun majority areas of tribal belt, the then NWFP and Balochistan in Afghanistan that would consequently provide it with an egress to the Arabian Sea.
A border which’s legitimacy Afghanistan has accepted and the agreements between Afghanistan and Britain in 1905, 1919, 1921, and 1930 are a testimony to that, was used as an excuse by the country to vote against Pakistan’s admission into the United Nations. This was just the beginning; Afghanistan soon started extending support for attacks on Pakistani territory. The Afghan tribesmen and the state’s troops guised as tribesmen engaged in repeated violations and cross fire with Pakistani forces. During Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan’s time as a prime minister, an ardent supporter of Pashtunistan movement the Pakistani embassy in Kabul and consulate in Jalalabad were forced shut on the watch of state institutions. Clashes on the borders escalated sharply, leading to a shutdown of the border for approximately half a year after in 1960 over a thousand Afghan soldiers disguised as Pashtun nomads and tribesmen infiltrated the Bajaur Agency. Occasional clashes continued for most part of the ensuing decade until the Shah of Iran brokered peace between the two countries.
As Pakistan tried to recover from the fall of Dhaka, Daud Khan who took over the throne of Afghanistan from King Zahir Shah, using Pashtunistan movement as a pretext to the coup earnestly fueled insurgencies in the country. USSR’s support to Daud’s regime while socialist Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was in government in Pakistan could have served as a mean to bringing the countries closer. Bhutto in fact extended a welcoming gesture by recognising Daud’s government but Daud showed little regard for the socialist counterpart. Daud resumed Afghan proxy interventions in Pakistan. Under his leadership Afghanistan supported both Pashtun and Baloch separatist movements against Pakistan by providing their cadres with arms and ammunition, establishing training camps and sanctuaries on Afghan territory. The Afghan government spent a fortune every year to provide overt and covert support to the Pashtun and Baloch nationalist leaderships for carrying terrorist activities on Pakistani territory both against the civilians and the paramilitary forces. Prominent political figures from federal parties were attacked, Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao was assassinated in a bomb blast in Peshawar while a bomb blast rocked Quetta as the Bhutto was addressing a meeting in the city. The regime alongside kept condemning Pakistan at international forums for mistreatment and discrimination against minority races.
Daud left Pakistan with little options but to adopt a two-faced policy and channel the sentiments of Islamic brotherhood in Afghans to its support. As a counter to the ethno-centric movements and to redefine the identities Pakistan went ahead with supporting Islamist groups in Afghanistan. The fact that the move was initiated in the times of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a socialist, left-wing leader of Pakistan depicts the desperation of the country to put a stop to the ethnic terror sponsoring from Afghanistan. The same Islamic rebel forces that later served as a strategic asset for the United States and its ally Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s support to those forces pressured Daud to come to the negotiating table with Bhutto and forced him to reconsider his support for the Pashtunistan movement.
The two countries almost reached an agreement on the issue as well as on Durand line before Bhutto’s government was toppled by General Zia in a marshal law and subsequently Daud was killed by his previous allies of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDAP). The pro-USSR transition government between Daud’s murder and Russian invasion revised on the progress made by the two government and resumed their support for the insurgent movements, compelling Zia’s regime to invest in strengthening the Islamists. Afghanistan soon fell to Russian invasion and rest is history. What easily escaped the memories of the people is Pakistan may have supported a group of Islamist rebels who contributed to miseries of Afghans in the subsequent years. The reason for Pakistan extending them support was to contain the expansionist motives of Afghanistan. Pakistan otherwise could have found a natural ally in the country for the religious and cultural symmetries and the personal ties among the people. Instead, it was caught in a vicious cycle where both the problem; ethnic terrorism and the solution it devised; Taliban, only concluded in putting the country’s reputation and security in a jeopardy.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.