Pakistan And Afghanistan: Lost Opportunities

The media in Pakistan and Afghanistan is full of analysis and predictions about the region after the Taliban’s blood-less takeover of Kabul. Many TV anchors in Pakistan are happy that Afghanistan has a Pakistan-friendly government and from now on, things will get better for Pakistan in the future.

The relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan were never smooth, even when the “Pakistan-friendly” government of the Mujahideen, and later the Taliban, were controlling Kabul. Both countries lost opportunities to make better relations. Although all sides claim to be the victim of the other but actually, both countries did not lose the chance to take advantage to push the other to the backfoot.

The dispute between the two countries began when the British-India’s rulers announced the Partition of India. The Afghan government asked the British authorities to keep them in the loop when they decide the status of Pashtuns in the east and south of the Durand Line. The British respond to them that their interest must stop at the Durand Line and anything at the east of the line is not the business of Afghanistan. However, the Afghan authorities believe that some of the later statements by the last viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, show that he would include Afghans when they decide about the future of Pashtuns.

The June 3, 1947 Partition Agreement outlined the future status of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) after the British departure. According to the agreement, the NWFP would hold the plebiscite and decide if it will stay with Pakistan or India. The Afghan government outright rejected the agreement because the NWFP at the west side of the Indus River and part of the Frontier, which was largely inhibited by Pashtuns, used to be the part of Afghanistan. The Afghan government demanded that the plebiscite must provide two more choices; the NWFP would be part of Afghanistan or be an independent state. The British rejected the request. The plebiscite was held without adding those choices. Close to 300,000 votes were polled in favor of Pakistan, while barely 3,000 votes supported the NWFP accession to India.

The Afghan government rejected the results. They claimed that because of Khan Ghaffar Khan’s boycott announcement, many people did not show up to cast their votes. Almost 13 percent fewer votes were polled in the plebiscite (55.5 percent) than in the Provincial elections of 1946 (68 percent). Afghan leadership also believed that with the communal hatred which was sweeping across India, expectation from almost 98 percent of the Muslim population that it would vote for Hindu-India was a pipe dream, however, if Afghanistan’s request to add more choices would be honored, the results could be very different. After the Partition, the British officials held a series of jirgas with tribal elders of the tribal agencies to find their plans. Tribal elders attached to Pakistan and wanted to keep their autonomy.

In September 1947, when Pakistan applied for the UN membership, Afghanistan was the only country that voted against Pakistan because—as Afghan representative, Abdul Hussain Khan Aziz said—Afghanistan did not accept the NWFP as a part of Pakistan. Although Afghanistan retracted the opposing vote just a month later, it already vitiated further the atmosphere between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In July 1973, Sardar Mohammed Daoud took over the power of the monarch Zahir Shah. At his first address, he mentioned the political differences between Pakistan and Pashtunistan. Of course, the Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took it with anger. By 1974, when the revolt in Baluchistan was at its peak, and the unrest rose in the NWFP, the Pakistan-Afghanistan relations further deteriorated.

Sardar Daud calls the Pashtunistan—which is the land at the west of Indus and part of north Baluchistan which was largely inhibited by Pashtuns - as the “lost land of forefathers” and he did not want to back down from its claim. To further intensify the revolt in Baluchistan, he declared the official refuge for Baluch fighters and set up camps. He not only provided them with shelters, but political and military support.

Sardar Daud calls the Pashtunistan—which is the land at the west of Indus and part of north Baluchistan which was largely inhibited by Pashtuns - as the “lost land of forefathers” and he did not want to back down from its claim

Dr. Tahir Amin, a Pakistani political scientist who served as the Vice-Chancellor of Bahauddin Zakariya University, in Multan, and later held additional charge of the Vice-Chancellor of Women University Multan, in his Ph.D. thesis, “Ethno-National Movements of Pakistan: Domestic and International Factors”, revealed that the Afghan government spent $875,000 per year on the Pashtuns and Baluch nationalists. Imtiaz Gul in his book, “The Unholy Nexus: Pak-Afghan Relations under the Taliban” claims that the Afghan government armed Asfandyar Wali Khan, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, and Nawab Khair Baksh Marri to pressurize Pakistan on the Pashtunistan issue.

In February 1974, Pakistan hosted a summit of all the Islamic countries’ leaders, and Mohammed Daoud was also invited. He sent a delegation and declined the invitation. The relations further deteriorated when Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao was assassinated in 1975 in the bomb explosion. The Pakistani Prime Minister blamed the National Awami Party and banned its operation as a political party. The top leadership of NAP, including Khan Abdul Wali Khan and his son Asfandyar Wali Khan, were arrested.

When the insurgency in Baluchistan further intensified, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto treated the Afghanistan government with their own medicine—which was provoking revolt inside Afghanistan against Mohammed Daoud. He provided safe heavens to the Islamists like Gulbadin Hikmatyar, supporters of monarchy, and those who were against the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan, like Ahmed Shah Masood and Burhanuddin Rabbani, both Tajik. Bhutto provided training to around five thousand anti-Daud elements and opened lines of communication with exiled monarch Zahir Shah, who was living in Rome. Bhutto’s primary goal was to push Mohammed Daoud to back off from helping the anti-Pakistan elements. His plan paid off. In June 1976, Mohammed Daoud, who was already under pressure because of the Soviet intervention in Afghan internal affairs, invited Bhutto to Kabul to open the dialog on Pashtunistan and Durand Line. During Bhutto’s visit to Kabul, two countries agreed to resolve their differences peacefully, and both leaders signed a friendship treaty. On the invitation of Bhutto, Mohammed Daoud paid a State visit to Islamabad. He agreed to recognize the Durand Line as an international border after consulting the Council of Elders (Loya Jirga). In return, Bhutto agreed to release the NAP leadership.

The supporters of the establishment’s policy of helping the Islamists in Afghanistan argue it was Bhutto who began the policy of intervention in Afghanistan using the Islamist proxies. However, it is not true. Bhutto’s goal was obvious. He wanted to provide an “incentive” to Daoud to come to the negotiating table. He supported non-Pashtun and liberal anti-Daoud groups as well.
The supporters of the establishment’s policy of helping the Islamists in Afghanistan argue it was Bhutto who began the policy of intervention in Afghanistan using the Islamist proxies

When General Zia seized power from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he continued Bhutto’s policy towards Afghanistan and visited Kabul for a brief visit. Nineteen months later, Zia visited Kabul again on an official visit. Before the visit, he ordered the release of all Pashtun and Baluch nationalists, which Daud appreciated and called a positive step towards the relation between the two countries.

In April 1978, a leftist revolutionary, Noor Mohammed Tarakai took over the power and assassinated Mohammed Daoud. The revolution significantly changed the political landscape of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. The new regime made it clear to Pakistan that the regime would not honor any agreements made by Mohammed Daoud. The foreign minister Hafizullah Amin declared, “All nationalities from the Oxus to the Abasin (Indus) are brothers of one homeland.”

The new pro-India-Soviet regime in Kabul began threatening Pakistan’s internal dynamics once again. General Zia visited Kabul, but his visit was not fruitful. He organized the Islamist parties in Pakistan to work with their allies in Afghanistan to destabilize the pro-Soviet Tarakai government. That was the beginning of Pakistan’s establishment’s organized involvement in Afghanistan through the Islamist elements in Afghanistan.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan, intelligence and the CIA worked closely to give the bloody nose to the Soviets. Their 12 months mission in Afghanistan ended in nine years’ unwinnable war and after losing 15000 lives, wounding 35000, and lost close to $50 billion, they had to pull out.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan, intelligence and the CIA worked closely to give the bloody nose to the Soviets

After the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s establishment’s obsession to have a Pakistan-friendly government in Afghanistan did not subside. Although there is nothing wrong to have such an obsession, however, things get more difficult when a specific group is labeled as a friend, and they are supported, no matter what they do. Mohammed Najibullah, who became the General Secretary of People’s Democratic Party in 1987, tried to build a government of national reconciliation. He distanced himself from socialism, abolished the one-party system, and offered all the non-communists to join the inclusive government. He offered Mujahideen a dialog to make Islam the official religion of Afghanistan, even asked the exile business owners to come back to Afghanistan and take their properties back, but he could not control the civil war.

According to some reports, after the Soviet withdrawal, Mohammed Najibullah offered Pakistan to have dialogues, but Pakistan policymakers—every Pakistani knows who they are—turned down the offer because they wanted the “Mujahideen” to be in power.

Pakistan’s famous author and political and strategic analyst, Mr. Shuja Nawaz, on September 5, 2021, told in my show at Nayadaur TV that before Mr Ashraf Ghani became a President, he told Mr Nawaz that if he would become the President, he would put a two-year moratorium on Afghanistan’s relations with India to build better relations with Pakistan. Mr Nawaz also revealed that during the meeting with CENTCOM, Afghan’s former Vice President, Amrullah Saleh said, “Stable Afghanistan can only emerge, once Pakistan interests are considered.”

Pakistan’s policymakers are repeating the same course of action which was failed miserably 20 years ago and Pakistan had to take the blame for what the Taliban did to the Afghan people. During the Taliban’s regime, Pakistan was the only country that recognized the Taliban government in Kabul. Pakistan also convinced UAE and Saudi Arabia to recognize the Taliban. Not only Pakistan had diplomatic relations with the Taliban, but Pakistan was also allegedly helping them militarily in their offensives against the Northern Alliance, still, Taliban did not agree to resolve the Durand Line issue with Pakistan, and according to some media reports when Pakistan was facing the worst terrorism from the Tahreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Afghan Taliban did not even issue any statement to condemn the actions of TTP. Instead, the Taliban spread their ideology inside Pakistan and Pakistan is paying the price.

Pakistan must not repeat the mistake of supporting a militant group which took over the country by force. The cheerleaders of Taliban in Pakistan must understand that during last 20 years a civil society is formed, which is going to assert more and more, especially because of the worsening economy and Taliban’s treatment of women. Their government is going to fail eventually and if Pakistan will get involved with Taliban instead of staying neutral, the Afghan people would not forgive. Pakistan must keep its channels open with Afghan people and address their concerns.

So far, it seems we are doing once again what we did 20 years ago.

Pakistan ISI chief, without formal recognition of Taliban regime, with no parliamentary mandate, went to Kabul to talk with Taliban — not secretly but with fanfare. This action sure would not help win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. So the question arises; do the decision-makers and selectors in Pakistan care about making good relations with the Afghan people or do they only care about the Pakistan-friendly (in their opinion) and India-unfriendly government in Afghanistan?