COMMENTARY
 
Rescuing Pak-Afghan Relations
Weekly Pulse
February 9-15, 2007
When President-General Pervez Musharraf returned to Islamabad from Jakarta, he was expected to inform the media about the second leg of Middle Eastern mission. The President had just been to five Middle Eastern countries trying to build up an intra-Muslim world consensus for a new initiative to solve the Palestinian problem, aggravated by intra-Palestinian killings recently.

Instead, at the press conference following his trip to Malaysia and Indonesia, President Musharraf’s lashed out at the Afghan government for engaging in a smear campaign against Pakistan on the alleged Taliban infiltration across the Durand Line from Pakistan’s tribal belt. A war of words has been going on between him and Afghan President Hamid Karzai for quite some time, but now it seems to have reached a level that threatens the very nature and dynamics of Pakistan-Afghanistan partnership in the US-led war on terrorism in the region.

A the core of growing differences between the two countries, that has instigated this war of words, is the following question: what is the cause of the rampant insurgency in Afghanistan that is likely to worsen with the launching of the so-called spring offensive by Taliban and their militant allies?

Afghan Claims

The Afghan leadership claims the sole reason behind this insurgency is Pakistan’s sponsorship of Taliban infiltration across the Durand Line into Afghanistan from sanctuaries in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan accuses the Afghan government of attempting to divert international attention from its own failure in giving due representation to the country’s majority Pashtun population, which, it claims, is the primary cause of rampant Afghan insurgency.

Pakistan does acknowledge the problem of infiltration, but rules out its primacy in causing Afghan insurgency. It is, however, the Afghan claim that is increasingly certified by the US government, the NATO/ISAF command in Afghanistan and a section of the US/Western media.

Consequently, each time external pressure on the infiltration issue mounts on Pakistan, its military acts in desperation against suspected Taliban and their militant sympathisers in the country’s semi-autonomous Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), particularly in its North Waziristan agency. While successive military operations by Pakistan have failed to ward off international pressure on the infiltration issue, they have nonetheless contributed to growing public discontentment and Talibanisation in FATA.

In the face of such internal repercussions of its military operations, and growing external concerns about “not doing enough” in stopping Taliban infiltration, Pakistan has opted for partial fencing and mining of the Durand Line, and signed a peace agreement with a tribal jirga in North Waziristan. Since Afghanistan has historically claimed Pashtun areas in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan province to be its part, the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai staunchly opposes Pakistan’s attempt to mine and fence selected parts of the Durand Line, fearing this will turn the Durand Line into an international border.

Bio-Matrix System

For the same reason, the Afghan government opposes Pakistan’s introduction of the bio-matrix system for registering the daily traffic of thousands of people across main check-posts on the Durand Line. Meanwhile, despite the signing of the Waziristan peace agreement in September 2006, the insurgency inside Afghanistan has gained momentum, even though its intensity has shifted from eastern to southern Afghanistan bordering Balochistan.

With that, the focus of external pressure on Pakistan on the infiltration issue has also shifted to areas in Balochistan, including its provincial capital Quetta, which are considered as a breeding ground for growing insurgency in southern Afghanistan. Recent statements by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and news stories published in the US/Western media frequently point to the existence of a deepening nexus between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the Taliban and pro-Taliban Islamist organisations in Pakistan, as a proof of Pakistani state’s complicity in the growing Afghan insurgency.

Pakistan under President-General Pervez Musharraf is, therefore, caught in a dilemma. Following the terrorist events of September 11, 2001 in the United States, the Musharraf government had taken a U-turn in its Afghan policy by abandoning support to the Taliban. Since then, it has claimed to be a frontline state in the US-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

Issue of Credibility

Pakistan’s logistical and intelligence help may have proven crucial in deposing the Taliban regime in 2001 and combating the ensuing Afghan insurgency. Pakistan may have also played an important part in the post-Taliban political process, which led to the re-establishment of presidential and parliamentary institutions in Afghanistan. But the fact is that its credibility as a trustable partner in the US-led war on terrorism has eroded with the growth in Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.

President Musharraf does not wish to be perceived by the United States as a leader lacking in commitment to counter terrorism in Afghanistan, as his domestic rule and international standing rest considerably on the US support. Simultaneously, his military regime cannot afford a militant-political backlash in the tribal belt resulting from ant-Taliban military operations taken mostly in desperation under tremendous external pressure on the infiltration issue.

Neither of his non-military initiatives to solve this issue—the peace deal in Waziristan, and fencing and mining of the Durand Line—is acceptable to the US/Afghan leadership and NATO/ISAF command in Afghanistan. The United States, however, seems willing to finance the socio-economic development of FATA as a hedge against growing Talibanisation of the region, through Pakistan-proposed initiatives such as the establishment of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones.

Unfair Attitude

For its part, the Afghan government of President Karzai expects Pakistan to control a border which it itself is unwilling to recognise. The Durand Line was drawn by the colonial administration of British India in 1893 as a temporary boundary so that Afghanistan could serve as a buffer state between it and the Russian Empire, which it did.

Following Pakistan’s creation in 1947, Afghanistan voted against its membership in the United Nations, refused to recognise the Durand Line, renewed its claim on Pashtun areas in Balochistan and NWFP and, with Indian encouragement, began sponsoring nationalist-separatist movements there—policies that caused successive tensions in its relations with Pakistan.

After Afghan King Zahir Shah’s ouster in 1973, the government of President Muhammad Daoud moved the Afghan army close to the Durand Line. Already faced with a security threat from across its eastern borders with India—with which it had already fought three wars, with the 1971 war dismembering East Pakistan—Pakistan felt threatened from the possible opening of a second front against it from across its Western frontiers with Afghanistan.

Consequently, it started sponsoring a limited Afghan Islamist insurgency against the Daud government. After Daoud’s fall, the only instance when Afghanistan offered to meet Pakistan’s long-standing desire of converting the Durand Line into an international border was Afghan Communist President Noor Muhammad Taraki’s announcement to the effect, however conditional upon Pakistan’s renunciation of support to Afghan Islamist opposition—which, instead, was fuelled by the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

Historical Intricacies

Until the fall of the communist Najibullah regime in 1992, Pakistan’s tribal Pashtun areas bordering the Durand Line served as a principal sanctuary for Afghan and non-Afghan Mujahideen, whose anti-Soviet jihad was aided by a US-led international coalition. During this time, some 3.5 million Afghans also took refuge in the tribal belt as well as adjoining settled Pashtun areas, causing severe socio-economic burden on the local population.

During the intra-Afghan warfare that followed Najibullah’s outer as well as the rise of the Taliban, Afghanistan became the hub of a regional proxy war between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and India and Iran, on the other—with the Durand Line serving as the main conduit for militant infiltration sponsored by the former. In fact, during the Taliban rule, the Durand Line had become virtually non-existent.

If seen in this historical context, the issue of Taliban infiltration across the Durand Line—despite its current emergence as the main bone of contention in Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan—is not as simple as it would seem. Its complexities are grounded in successive rounds of warfare in Afghanistan, from the international fight against Soviets during the 1980s to the regional proxy war in the 1990s to the present international campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan.

This issue cannot be dissociated from Afghanistan’s historical claim on Pakistan’s Pashtun areas and its consequent unwilling to recognise the Durand Line as an international border. Nor can it be seen in isolation from Pakistan’s historical fears regarding the revival of Pashtun separatist nationalism and its ensuing desire for turning the Durand Line into an international border.

For over two decades, between the 1979 Soviet intervention and the 2001 ouster of the Taliban regime, Pakistan’s tribal belt bordering Afghanistan served as a principal sanctuary for Afghan and non-Afghan militant Islamist forces, who drew their successive sustenance from international and regional powers.

Given that, a culture of cross-border infiltration and militancy may have taken roots in a region whose tribal inhabitants are known for upholding socio-ethnic bonds, religious affinity and conservative religious values, and which the state of Pakistan has ignored, both socially and economically, since independence in 1947.

Concluding Remarks

It is clear from the above description that the issue of alleged from Pakistan’s tribal areas into Afghanistan through the Durand Line involves a lot of intricacies, which must be give due consideration while assessing the veracity of Afghan leadership’s attempted singling out of Pakistan for criticism insofar as the primary source of growing insurgency in Afghanistan.

It would not be unfair to suggest here that this insurgency is caused by a multitude of factors, some of which may be associated with the issue of Taliban infiltration but most of them may be indigenously located in Afghanistan itself. These may include warlordism, its financing through drug trade, endemic corruption within the Afghan government and the failure of American/NATO military operations, so on and so forth.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are important allies in the US-led war on terrorism. The success of this war rests considerably upon their closer cooperation, which will benefit not only them but also the rest of the international community. Given that, it would be prudent upon both Afghan and Pakistani Presidents to avoid confrontational approach and work together for the respective interests of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as regional stability and international peace.