Does Pakistan Face A Historical Dilemma With Afghanistan?

It is clear that Afghan presence on the eastern side of the Safed Koh remained only between 1747 and 1834, for less than a century

Does Pakistan Face A Historical Dilemma With Afghanistan?

This piece began its journey on the laptop in the latter half of March this year, when, in the wake of the suicide attack on a Pakistan Army post in Waziristan with the loss of precious lives, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had conducted retaliatory airstrikes on the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in eastern Afghanistan, followed by heavy artillery exchanges across the border. 

Sadly, it was the third of the four immediate neighbours that we have traded bombs with in last four years. Coming on the heels of the cross Pak-Iran incident two months earlier, whose circumstances were similar to those of Pak-Afghan incident, we had found ourselves in armed clashes with both our Muslim neighbours. The purpose of writing this piece, however, is limited to assess the threats posed by Afghanistan to our security and society. 

Due to multiple internal and external challenges faced by the nation, it appears that the Pak-Afghan episode has lost its relevance and importance. Let's be warned that It may not have the immediacy right now but the issue remains charged. Pak-Iran tensions have been eased, especially with the visit of the late President of Iran to Pakistan; the only head of State or government to have paid us a visit in the last two years. The Afghan issue, however, will resurface soon with vengeance because history always catches up and our two nations share a long bloody history since the creation of modern state of Afghanistan two hundred and fifty years ago.

The history of the Abdali or Durrani dynasty is a tale of looting of the Punjab, Delhi and the area in-between. Afghanistan was established by Ahmad Shah Abdali in July 1747 after the assassination of Nader Shah, in whose army he had served as a loyal lieutenant. The first task he undertook was collecting the Afghan tribes to form a formidable cavalry. However, the tribesmen joined his enterprise for money and Abdali needed a lot of it in regular supply. He had been to India at the impressionable age of sixteen with Nader Shah in 1738 on a plundering raid to Delhi during which the accumulated wealth of the Mughal Empire, including the still famous diamonds and rubies (Kohinoor, Darya-e-Noor, Peacock throne, the Taj-e-Mah, Akbar Shah diamond, the Shah diamond, the Jehangir diamond, the Great Table diamond, etc.) were looted. Abdali knew the source from where to get the monetary reserves. In late 1747, barely six months since wearing the crown, he marched on to Peshawar, Lahore, Sirhind and Delhi. He would torment Punjab and UP for the next twenty years – an era that has left a deep mark on the psyche of the people of Punjab. 

Ahmed Shah first occupied Lahore in January 1748 and ordered a general looting of the treasury and the residents. it was accompanied with a lot of bloodshed. Houses of the rich and poor were equally violated and vandalized for days. City elders, including Moman Khan, Lakhpat Rai and Surat Singh then collected and presented Ahmed Shah with three million rupees in return for ending the bloodshed and plunder extremities. That’s the kind of history that keeps Afghan interest in Pakistan, especially the KP and Punjab. Coincidentally and simultaneously, Afghans were ransacking the western extremities of the subcontinent in Punjab, Kashmir and Delhi, just when the British were plundering the eastern perimeters in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. 

It is said that Shah Waliullah invited Abdali in 1760/61 to attack India to get rid of the Marathas, then occupying Delhi. It may be so but Abdali was no stranger to India or it's treasures. He came here for the first time in 1730 as a young man with the plunderer Nader Shah. Then between 1748 and 1761, he came five times to plunder Punjab and Delhi and didn't need any invitations to do so again. By issuing such invitation, Shah Waliullah has only tarnished his name as a co-accused as the tormentor of Punjab and its people, inclusive of all religions. 

Let the record be straight. Shah Waliullah’s priorities can be difficult for us to relate to. During his lifetime (1703-1762), the Mughal power was waning due to poor administration and internal rifts, however he targeted Shias for their beliefs, spoke against Hindu traditions and preached extremist Islamic doctrine. He lived through the sack and plunder of Delhi by Nader Shah, the Battle of Plassey and the plunder of Bengal but, according to Syed Ali Nadwi, Saviors of Islamic Spirit vol 4 he never issued any edict against either the Persian or the British. Even his descendants and followers chose to fight against the Sikh rule in Punjab but not against the British, who were tormenting the people of Bengal, Bihar, UP, Delhi and Orissa. Shah Waliullah was, therefore mistaken in his evaluations of threats to India or Indian Muslims. He was a Delhi resident and would have known of the palace intrigues, opportunism, hedonistic life styles and treachery perpetrated by the then elite in pursuing their narrow personal goals in complete neglect of national interest; much as that being practiced by the current Pakistani elite. Therefore, let no one – as some delusional people in the country are prone to – expect salvation in the Taliban; Afghan or Pakistani. That would be the worst fate that can befall our nation. 

One issue that some in Afghanistan like to keep alive is the alignment of the common border between the two states. A brief recap of the history of Peshawar-Kabul region can enlighten us about this territorial issue. Being included in the Indus Basin, Kabul was accessible from Peshawar along the Kabul River, and both cities were often administered by one ruler; more often than not based in Upper Punjab. It i7s noteworthy that while Herat, Kandahar, Balkh and, even Ghazni formed part  of greater Khorasan during the Golden Age of Islam (9th to 13th centuries), Kabul doesn’t feature in that region. The city has been as much a part of Central Asia as of India. In fact, according to CE Boseworth, The Ghaznavids: Their Empire in Afghanistan and Eastern Iran, it was more a part of Hindustan rather than of Iran or Turkistan empires.

One worries that the beneficence of Pakistan has been taken as its weakness. The fact that Pakistan’s national slide is on acceleration, picking up speed and momentum, with nothing to retard the dangerous motion, doesn’t augur well for our safe future

The Hindu Shahi rulers, from whom Mahmood Ghaznavi wrested control of the Kabul Valley and Punjab, administered Kabul city from their base in Peshawar and Potohar region. Thereafter, Kabul remained under the Mongols till Babur placed it under the Indian Mughal Empire. It remained under Delhi control upto 1738 untill Nader Shah wrested its control on his way to Delhi. Even the Abdali rulers had their capital in Kandahar till 1776 when King Taimur Shah shifted his capital to Kabul.
For their part, the Sikhs captured Peshawar from the Barakzai rulers of Afghanistan in 1834 and repulsed the Afghans beyond the Jamrud Fort. Subsequent attempts by the Afghans failed to dislodge the Sikhs. The Durand Line was demarcated as the agreed border between the British India and Emir Abdur Rehman of Afghanistan in November 1893 with actual demarcation accomplished the next year. Then after the Third Anglo-Afghan war, two parties signed the Treaty of Rawalpindi in August 1919, which states that “The Afghan Government accepts the Indo-Afghan frontier accepted by the late Amir.” Afghan rulers reaffirmed the border in treaties of November 1919, 1921 and 1930. 
The border has stood since then. It is clear that Afghan presence on the eastern side of the Safed Koh remained only between 1747 and 1834, for less than a century; not ever before or after these dates; and that too as an occupier with governance delegated to local tribute paying rulers. Expansionists from Afghanistan also do not mention that it was only because of their treaties with the British that they got possession of Nuristan across the River Kunar and the Wakhan corridor in the north, between Tajikstan and Pakistan.
It is clear from the above that such excessive Afghan claims, which continue to find an audience in that country, are frivolous and unfounded in history. They are a tool for blackmailing. Pakistan has been magnanimous in helping them to fight the Russians and the Americans. We didn’t have to. In doing so, we lost much in terms of lives, social upheavals, national integration and financial stability. They, however, have aligned with India, who did nothing to help them in the time of their dire need. 
For the last four decades or more, we have been hosting Afghan refugees, who, at their peak, numbered about 2.5 million. The original migrants of 1980s now have their grandchildren born here, yet many are relatively ungrateful to their host nation who sacrificed a lot to feed, house and sustain them. In international fora, and on cricket fields, they behave as if we are their worst enemies. A number of Afghans who have migrated to the Western nations from Pakistan, end up speaking far more against Pakistan than against Russia, US, Taliban or the Al-Qaeda, who have been their real tormentors. In fact, the displays of hostility from them in foreign lands can be quite embarrassing. 
Informed commentators in Afghanistan know that for last many centuries, after every incident of their natural disaster or manmade difficulty, be it famines, tribal warfare, interclan bloodshed or any other calamity, it was the areas of Balochistan, KP and Punjab, and now Karachi, where they have found political refuge, business opportunities, political careers, government positions and economic stability. Family names like Durranis, Qazis, Sadozais, etc are prominent in the higher echelons of Pakistan, and that alone testifies to the magnanimity of the Indus and Bolan valleys. 
However, one worries that the beneficence of Pakistan has been taken as its weakness. The fact that Pakistan’s national slide is on acceleration, picking up speed and momentum, with nothing to retard the dangerous motion, doesn’t augur well for our safe future. Afghanistan’s self-interested attitude should therefore be a sombre reminder that there would be dire fallout for our failure to heal our nation. 

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: