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    OpinionsPakistan pushing itself towards the abyss with its Afghanistan obsession

    Pakistan pushing itself towards the abyss with its Afghanistan obsession


    Pakistan pushing itself towards the abyss with its Afghanistan obsession

    Tilak Deshevar

    A broad sweep of the history of Pak-Afghan relations since 1947 reveals that at its core, Pakistan's policy is dictated by its insecurity vis-à-vis the Durand Line. Right from 1947, Pakistan was faced with a western border that was disputed by its neighbour just as, in its perceptions, in the east too was seeking to undo Partition.

    Afghanistan was the only country that opposed Pakistan's membership to the United Nations on September 30, 1947 on the grounds that treaties with Britain lapsed when a new state, Pakistan, was created. As such, for Afghanistan, the Durand Line that demarcated the border between Afghanistan and British India after the Second Afghan War ceased to exist.

    In any case, the Afghans considered the 1878 Treaty of Gandamak and the Durand Agreement of 1893 as unjust agreements imposed on them by Britain, which they were forced to accept after a military defeat. Every Afghan government has hoped to re-annex the territories east of the border, extending up to the River Indus.

    For its part, Pakistan treats the Durand Line as a settled fact, especially after King Amanullah Khan confirmed it in 1919 following his defeat by the British. However, Pakistan has always been insecure about the lack of its acceptance by Afghanistan.The insecurity is real given the common Pakhtun population straddling both sides of the Durand Line and about 20–25 per cent of Pakistan's territory being vulnerable to any Afghan revanchist designs.

    Pakistan's policies towards Afghanistan are, therefore, geared to get an Afghan government accept the sanctity of the Durand Line as the border so that no ambiguity is left as far as its western borders are concerned.

    According to the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaif, Pakistan tried three times to formalise the border during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan but it repeatedly received a negative response. The first time was when Mullah Abdul Raziq was appointed as the interior minister; the second time during thevisit of Pakistan's interior minister Moinuddin Haider to Kabul and Kandahar; and the third time during the presidency of General Pervez Musharaf.

    The policy of securing the border has two objectives. One, a strong government in Afghanistan would be dangerous as it could try and recover Pakhtun territories lost to the Sikhs and inherited by Pakistan via the British. Therefore, Pakistan's policy had to ensure a weak government in Kabul that was dependent on Pakistan. This would be the best guarantee against any revanchist posture.

    The second objective is based on Pakistan's perception about India. Pakistan views its relations with Afghanistan not merely in a bilateral context but in a South Asian context too, coupled with the perceived relationship that the US has with India and Pakistan.

    A nightmare scenario for Pakistan would be for India to encourage the revanchist claims of a strong and friendly (towards India) Afghanistan. This Indo-Afghan alliance would catch Pakistanin a vice-like grip with a hostile India on the east and a hostile Afghanistan on the west.

    For this reason, Pakistan has determined that India must not be allowed any space in Afghanistan. Only a proxy government in Kabul, or a weak and dependent Afghan government that toes Pakistan's line can ensure this.

    Pakistan's deep involvement in Afghanistan has intermittently given it a seat on the high table for a while, and as a front-line state brought it financial assistance. Has it brought it more security? In reality, the blowback from Afghanistan has had major adverse consequences for Pakistan.

    The grievous miscalculation that Pakistan is making is to envision that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will toe its line. If there has been one lesson from Afghan history, it is that no outsider has been able to dominate it for long. This is what the British learnt in the 19th century, the Soviets in the 20th and the US in the 21st.

    Pakistan is no different but it will not stop trying due to its obsessive desire to control and install a weak and dependent government in Kabul. In the process, given the cost that it has borne for its Afghan policy, Pakistan is fast becoming the next victim of this “graveyard of empires”.

    Tactically, a weak and dependent Afghanistan may help temporarily to calm the insecurities of Pakistan's military. However, over the long-term, it has brought in its wake refugees, drugs, “Kalashnikov ”, and heightened the religious identity of the Pakhtuns even as the concept of “strategic depth” itself has become redundant given the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states.

    It is only when the army accepts Afghanistan as a sovereign country entitled to have its own policies that best serves its own interests, and realises that the Afghans are first and foremost Afghans, that a dent will be made in Pak-Afghan relations. Till then, the blowback from Afghanistan will continue to push Pakistan towards the abyss.

    (Re-printed with publisher's permission.)

    The writer is a former civil servant who retired as special secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat. He writes on developments in South Asia with focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan.


    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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