BACKGROUND: Pakistan’s security perceptions regarding Afghanistan have to a large extent been shaped by Kabul’s territorial claims on Pakistan’s North-western Frontier province (NWFP) and Baluchistan. Kabul insisted that Pakistan’s Pashtun belt should be allowed decide on its own future, to opt of independence, to stay with Pakistan or to merge with Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the only country that voted against Pakistan’s admission into the United Nations. The border between the two states, the Durand Line, has been a major concern in Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan since 1947. The border situation presents numerous uncontrollable problems: illegal border crossings on a daily basis, illicit drug trafficking, strongholds of criminal networks, terrorist sanctuaries and societal fragmentation of in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
India’s involvement in the internal affairs of Pakistan since the country’s inception to create instability in the country through Afghanistan also remains a core problematic issue in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. In the 1970s, Afghan president Sardar Daud Khan provided sanctuaries to Baluch insurgents. In reciprocity, Pakistan welcomed Afghan Islamists with anti-communist and anti-Daud sentiments. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmad Shah Masood, and Burhanuddin Rabbani were all provided with training and support for incursions and uprisings inside Afghanistan. After Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, Pakistan along with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia supported the Afghan resistance.
Once the Soviet forces withdrew, Pakistan hoped for the evolution of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan with a cooperative government in Kabul that could facilitate the return of over 3 million Afghan refugees. For Islamabad, a stable Afghanistan would become a gateway to the newly independent Central Asian republics in the early 1990s. Despite Islamabad’s support, Hekmatyar failed to gain control of Kabul. When the Taliban appeared and gained control of Kandahar, they appeared to be a more feasible alternative. This was the first time in the history of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations that Kabul had a government friendly to Pakistan and without links to India.
Pakistan extended diplomatic and economic support to the Taliban Government. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. led Pakistan to join the U.S.-led global war on terror. Nevertheless, Pakistan became deeply concerned with the situation in Afghanistan in November of 2001, when despite U.S. assurances to the contrary, the Northern Alliance forces moved into Kabul. The Alliance had close ties to India and its control of Kabul was seen as a profound strategic threat to Pakistan. At the Bonn conference, the Northern Alliance received the portfolios of most of the important ministries, including defense. Its forces physically controlled these ministries and the U.S. and other allies had little interest in evicting them.
Even though a Durrani Pashtun, Hamid Karzai, was elected interim president in December 2001, Pashtuns still remained underrepresented in the government. Relations between the two neighbors soon deteriorated due to the distrust between Islamabad and the Northern Alliance. Kabul accused Islamabad of harboring Afghan insurgents to destabilize government authority while Islamabad responded by pointing to Kabul’s alleged support in collaboration with India to the Baluch guerrilla movement and attempts at creating instability in the tribal areas.
IMPLICATIONS: Pakistan understands that a stable Afghanistan is of crucial importance to its own stability and that Pakistan stands to lose if Afghanistan is not stabilized. Among the most pressing issues in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are the issue of the Durand line, the return of Afghan refugees, the Indian presence in Afghanistan, and the implementation of various pipeline projects transporting Central Asian oil and gas through Gwadar. Above all, Pakistan wants a stable and friendly Afghanistan which does not pose a threat or allows other states to use its territory against Pakistan.
Islamabad is concerned that the U.S. and NATO forces will leave without addressing Afghanistan’s core problems. As a result, instability will continue and will have numerous and predictable consequences for Pakistan: continuing unrest in the FATA; a surge in illegal border crossings leading to another Afghan refugee crisis; a surge in drug trafficking and weapons smuggling and further strains in the India-Pakistan relationship as both states continue to compete for influence in Afghanistan. At the same time, Islamabad understands the need to improve its relations with Kabul and to reach out to other ethnicities than the Pashtun. By engaging the non-Pashtun factions, it would be able to expand its support base and also address their concerns about Pakistani policies and support for anti-Pakistan element in Afghanistan. Islamabad’s primary interest in Afghanistan is to have a friendly government in Kabul that does not get involved in any anti-Pakistan activity.
Historically, Islamabad viewed Afghanistan’s behavior, its close ties with India, and its support for anti-Pakistan elements as interconnected and a threat to its national security; it would like to see an end to this trend. However, Kabul’s persistent refusal to recognize the Durand line as an international border further complicates this picture. Islamabad views the sudden rise of separatist activities in Baluchistan and increased Indian involvement in Afghanistan, especially in provinces bordering Pakistan, as interlinked.
Islamabad is keen to see the development of a stable and secure Afghanistan due to its desire to establish economic linkages with the Central Asian states. Central Asian energy resources can not only provide Pakistan with an opportunity to meet its ever increasing energy requirements but can also transform Pakistan into an energy hub or corridor via the Gwadar port. Islamabad is hence keen to see projects like TAPI realized. However, it also clearly understands that for Islamabad’s Central Asian dream to materialize, a stable and viable Afghanistan is key. For this to happen, Islamabad will have to pay significant attention to improving its relations with Afghanistan and the Central Asian states, which are currently strained due to the continuing problem of religious extremism and terrorism which these countries believe emanates from Pakistan.
It is still not clear what exact shape the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 will take, and whether the U.S. will maintain some degree of military presence in Afghanistan. While most analysts point to the risk that Afghanistan will revert to a civil war-like situation after 2014, they also point to the competition for influence between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan.
CONCLUSIONS: Pakistan’s concerns over and interests in Afghanistan are first and foremost security related since whichever direction Afghanistan will take; it will have an effect on Pakistan, especially on its tribal areas and the provinces of Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Many lessons can be learned from events over the last 30 years. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan means a peaceful and stable Pakistan. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan, along with India, have much to gain by showing some acumen and cooperate in energy and other such sectors. But for this to happen, the leaderships of these states must come to an understanding about the core problem the region is facing. In other words, the region needs a regional approach to make it peaceful and prosperous; an accomplishable target if one has the resolve. As Mao said, a thousand miles journey begins with a single step.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Rizwan Zeb is based at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia, Perth. He is a former Benjamin Meaker Visiting professor of Politics, IAS, University of Bristol and a former visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution.