Overview of Pak-Afghan Relations


 By Juma Khan Sufi

In order to understand the peculiar problem of unnatural mistrust existing between the two neighbouring countries, especially in Afghanistan vis-a-vis Pakistan, it would be pertinent to briefly shed light on the relationship of the two countries right from the beginning.

But before I shed light on the specifics, I would like to say a few words about the unjust and hasty partition of Indian Sub-Continent into India and Pakistan – the partition which has led to multiple conflicts in the region. The partition was never on the agenda of the leader of Muslim League, Quid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.  He considered undivided India with ironclads guarantees to the minorities, especially Muslims, the best solution.  Pakistan was only second best option for him. As testified by stalwarts of Indian independence movement like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Jaswant Singh and many others that slogan of Pakistan was always a bargaining chip for Mohammad Ali Jinnah to extract concessions for Muslims.  Therefore, when the Cabinet Mission sent by the British Government to India to probe the matter of transfer of power to Indian hands in 1946 and its plan was spelt out in May 1946 about a federal India with specific guarantees to the provinces, groups and minorities, the leader of Muslim League accepted it wholeheartedly and declared it to be the only practicable solution to Indian constitutional conundrum.

But Congress wanted India solely under its own thumb, a coherent India without any partner.  So they rejected the Mission proposals and thus paved way for partition.  Realizing intransigence of Congress not ready to come to terms and accommodation with the Muslims that Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared that henceforth the only course left open to them was the demand of division of India than surrendering to the dictates of one party representing the Hindu majority interests.  This was what the top Congress leaders, Vallabhbhai Patel and Nehru with the tacit blessing of Gandhi wanted as testified by Maulana Azad in his famous work India Wins Freedom.  The Congress leaders were not sincere. They helped devise the 3rd June partition plan which was rightly termed as Menon Plan by British functionaries, since it was drawn by Reforms Commissioner Vappla Pangunni Menon, in cahoots with Congress and owned by the British Govt. (Read V.P Menon’s book named Transfer of Power)

The implementation of the plan was absolutely in contravention with the ideas and wishes of M.A. Jinnah who first wanted united Bengal as separate country in accordance with the agreement reached between Bengal Congress and Bengal Muslim League and supported by the British Govt, and failing which he did not want the division of Bengal and Punjab on communal lines. But the Congress High Command overruled these proposals and the British were compelled to follow them as they represented the bigger and developed part of India with which the British had close commercial ties and the solution of Indian constitutional problem largely depended upon Congress concurrence.  Congress leaders falsely entertained hopes that somehow Pakistan won’t survive and would ultimately be forced to re-join India on their own terms. Thereafter, it was the struggle for survival for Pakistan. What I am saying here is absolutely different than the widespread held belief here inculcated by Indians and Pakhtun nationalists of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the official-inspired histories and commentaries under the Cold War logic that Jinnah and Muslim League were British stooges and carved out Pakistan from India at their behest.

The partition created problem of Kashmir, a Muslim majority state which according to the agreed upon formula among Indian National Congress, Muslim League and British Govt should have gone to Pakistan.  The Indian National Congress with the connivance of British Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, manipulated it to be included in the Indian Union.  The Pakistani side per force sent tribal irregulars from FATA and some soldiers in October 1947, who included thousands of volunteers of Afghan tribesmen from greater Paktia and greater Nangarhar and some koochis (nomads) from Ghazni, to liberate it. It was unwise decision largely dictated by a KP Muslim League leader Abdul Qayyum Khan. A part of Kashmir was liberated which is now called Azad Kashmir, but the larger part was occupied by Delhi forces.  Subsequently, India approached the UN Security Council against Pakistan which unanimously passed resolutions after resolutions that all forces belonging to India and Pakistan should be withdrawn from Kashmir and an impartial plebiscite under the aegis of United Nations be held in the State.  India still refuses to abide by those resolutions despite that it was the initiator of going to UN.

Here starts the story of interference on the part of Afghanistan.  Prior to partition Afghanistan had raised the issue of the people of Afghan origin with British as they wished them to join Afghanistan or form an independent state of their own in the event of British withdrawal from India. This claim was rejected by the British citing 1921 friendship treaty signed by an independent monarch with them that had settled the border issue once for all.  We had a Congress Govt in KP, and Central Govt was led by Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of partition and Nehru also stoutly rejected Afghan claim saying that if Afghanistan demanded KP that once belonged to Afghanistan, then India could lay similar claim on Kabul that had once been part of India.  But Congress was duplicitous.  They were running with the hare and hunting with hound.  They were definitely surreptitiously behind Afghanistan irredentist claim to weaken Pakistan.

The referendum of July 1947 in present Khyber Pakhtunkhwa about whether to join India or Pakistan was largely imposed by Congress, since Jinnah wanted new polls. This was a watershed.  It was boycotted by KP Congress since it did not give third option of independence to the people of the province.  The third option was ruled out at the behest of Congress since Bengal and some other states also wanted independence and Congress while supporting the partition had opposed balkanisation of India.  But its press raised the issue of Pathanistan which was immediately seized by Kabul and termed it Pakhtunistan.  (Read Syed Qasim Rishtya’s Political Memoirs in Dari named خا طرات  سیا سی سید قاسم رشتیا).  Afghanistan was the only country which cast its negative vote against membership of Pakistan in UN in September 1947. From then onward India started hobnobbing with Afghanistan against the nascent Pakistan with whom this newly independent country had no quarrel whatsoever.  In July 1949 the 7th Term of Parliament nullified unilaterally all the agreements reached with British Indian Govt, including those reached by reformist and independent King Amanullah Khan. In August1949 a jirga of Afridis and other tribesmen with Afghan connivance was convened at Tirah in Khyber Agency declaring to struggle for attainment of Pakhtunistan.  Afghanistan declared 31st August of each year as Pakhtunistan Day and starting commemorating it each year issuing postal stamp on the occasion, which it still does in low profile manner every year.  One hour duration anti-Pakistan and pro-Pakhtunistan programme was inaugurated from Radio Afghanistan, Kabul, and a separate Tribal Directorate (ریاست قبا ئل ), a symbol of interference, was later on formed directly accountable to Prime Minister like other ministries.  In order to impart this movement all Pashtoon colour, Afghan government invited Ayub Khan Achakzai, a cousin of Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, father of Pakhtunkhwa Millie Awmi Party Mahmud Khan Achakzai, in 1950 to lead the movement of southern Pakhtunistan.  The Central Pakhtunistan movement of was led by Faqir of Ippi from Waziristan. (Ayub Achakzai died in Kabul in 1975 speaking each year on Pakhtunistan Day) Thenceforth Afghanistan started calling Baluchistan-based Pashtoon area, rather whole Baluchistan, as southern Pakhtunistan, KP as occupied Pakhtunistan and FATA as Azad Pakhtunistan.

Afghanistan always resisted any developmental work in the shape of schools, roads, clinics and other infrastructural activity on the part of Pakistan Govt within erstwhile FATA – recently declared its merger with rest of KP, by the National Assembly and government of Pakistan – considering it infringement on traditional freedoms of the free tribes by successors of English-infidel illegitimate regime.

Ironically India considers itself rightful successor of British India, including all its treaty obligations, but there is no secret that it started providing finances to Pakhtunistan movement spearheaded from Kabul.  India never supported Afghan claim on Durand Line as it would have approved Chinese contention on its northern frontier, McMahon Line, with China. It was only Soviet Russia which in 1955 and then in 1960 extended low key and lukewarm support to Afghan stand vis-a-vis Pakhtunistan.  But it never raised its voice in any international forum in support of Afghan claim.  Rather when it put forward Collective Asian Security doctrine during Brezhnev era in June 1969 aimed at encircling China, the very first article of it was recognising the inviolability of existing borders among countries.

Coupled with internal weaknesses of political movement, the hostile regional environment to which Afghanistan also contributed to no lesser degree, Pakistan gravitated towards US-sponsored alliances of CENTO and SEATO, while Afghanistan and India ostensibly neutral remained wedded in Eastern bloc. The entrance of Cold War rivalry in the region further aggravated the situation.  The Indo-Afghan nexus was a contributing factor in helping forging a national security state of Pakistan.

The assumption of power by Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan in September 1953 added fuel to the fire burning between two neighbours.  He was proponent of Pakhtunistan movement within the ruling monarchy.  On 30 December he terms US military aid to Pakistan as grave danger to security and peace of Afghanistan. On 7th November 1954, foreign minister Sardar Mohammad Naeem dubs Pakhtunistan issue not the problem of territorial adjustment but giving rights to Pushtoons in Pakistan to exercise their right of self-determination, the right they had already exercised in referendum of July 1947.

A very unwise decision of Pakistani political elite to amalgamate the four provinces of the West Pakistan into One Unit in order to neutralise the majority of Eastern wing aggravates relations with Pakistan.  This was very bad decision, but should have been dealt as internal matter of Pakistan.  So in March 1955 official inspired demonstrators attack Pakistan embassy, shatter window panes of the building and burn Pakistani flag.  Similar outrage takes place to the Consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad.  This results in a tit-for-tat action in Pakistan.  The mediation of Saudi Arabia fails and both sides recall their diplomatic staff.  In May 1955 Afghanistan orders general mobilisation of its forces in a possible showdown with Pakistan. The diplomatic missions are closed in each other countries.  But the common sense prevails and it is decided to open the consulates and embassies in each other countries.  But the decision not to postpone One Unit scheme by Pakistan again leads to the recall of ambassadors from each other countries.

In Nov 1955 Loya Jirga is convened which not only approves the purchase of military equipment and training of armed forces in Soviet Union but also endorses the 1949 parliament decision of nullifying all agreements reached with British India – 1893 Durand Treaty, the treaties of 1905, 1919, 1921 and 1930 – and demands plebiscite for Pushtoons of Pakistan. In January 1956, Afghan Consul General in Quetta is asked to leave and then Afghanistan expels military attaché of Pakistan.  In March 1956, SEATO endorses Pakistani stand vis-a-vis Durand Line.

In August 1956 President of Pakistan, Iskanadar Mirza, pays official visit to Kabul. In November Premier Daoud visits Pakistani capital, Karachi, and holds discussion with Pakistan on Pakhtunistan issue. In June 1957 Pakistani Premier Suharwardy visits Kabul and diplomatic relations are fully restored between the two countries. In February 1958 King Zahir Shah pays official visit to Pakistan during which President of Pakistan, Iskandar Mirza, proposes to him to form one country, which His Majesty names as Pak-Afghanistan. (As narrated by father of the nation Muhammad Zahir Shah to Pakistani ambassador to Kabul, Tariq Azizuddin in 2006)  In March 1960 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visits Kabul and assures Afghanistan of Soviet support to Pakhtunistan movement.  Pakistan terms it undue interference in its internal affairs. In May 1960 Afghanistan lodges protests to US and Pakistan for violating its airspace by flying U-2 spy aircraft aimed at espionage over Soviet Union, which was subsequently shot down by Soviet forces.

Afghanistan sends regulars disguised as irregulars and tribesmen to Bajaur, distributes weapons and cartridges among Bajauris and the war starts.  The Pakistani militia forces successfully rebuffs the attack.  In June 1961, King Zahir Shah opens shura (Parliament) and demands self-determination to Pakhtuns.  Diplomatic relations are broken down; border is sealed for merchandise and movement of koochis (nomads).  Afghanistan reiterates it demand of self-determination for Pakhtuns.

Both countries accept the mediation of Shah of Iran.  In August 1962 President Ayub Khan of Pakistan proposes confederation of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan in a meeting at Quetta. In March 1963, Premier Daoud resigns and Dr Mohammad Yusuf replaces him as Prime Minister. In May diplomatic relations are restored. In July 1964 President Ayub pays one day official visit to Kabul and discusses ways and means with King Zahir Shah to improve relations. In 1965 new trade agreement is signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan replacing 1958 agreement. In January 1972, President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto visits Kabul briefly for talks.  When all these activities related to Pakhtunistan movement spearheaded from Afghanistan are going on, there has been a consistent move from inside Pakistan to bring about confederation of the two countries right from the very inception of Pakistan to which Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan also agrees.  (Read A Pathan Odyssey by Mohammad Aslam Khattak)

In Fwbruary 1973, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto dismisses the NAP-led Govet in Baluchistan and KP Govt resigns in protest. In March 1973, General Secretary of National Awami Party, Ajmal Khattak, secretly crosses over to Afghanistan with a political mission against Pakistan.  At 17 July 1973 President Daoud stages a successful coup against monarchy, declares Afghanistan a Republic, abrogates 1964 Constitution and reinvigorates the issue of Pakhtuns and Baluchs, upgrades Tribal Directorate into a full-fledged ministry of frontier affairs, increases the duration of Pakhtunistan programme beamed against Pakistan and accords official status to Ajmal Khattak.  In August 1973 I join him. In October 1973 I am sent to Pakistan to meet NAP leader, Abdul Wali Khan, to inform him that Afghanistan was ready to train and equip Pakhtun and Baluch youth.  In December NAP leader Wali Khan visits Kabul and decides matters of training and helping militarily and financially Pakhtun and Baluch youth with President Daoud.  Afterwards he flies to London and there seeks support from Indian Govt in a meeting with RAW agent in Sweden, which is accepted. The Pakhtun-Baluch youth start coming to Afghanistan in early 1974, get training and take weapons and explosives with them back to Pakistan for sabotage and guerrilla warfare in KP and Baluchistan. Guerrilla activities in Baluchistan and sabotage activities in the form of bomb blasts take place in KP.

In June 1974 seemingly an unsuccessful coup attempt by religious right is unearthed.  Habibur Rehaman is executed, but some of his accomplices, including the later day Afghan mujahideen leaders like Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, Ahmad Shah Masood and some others along with some army officers, flee to Pakistan. In response to these militant activities, Pakistan starts imparting training and equipping them in October 1974. They are subsequently being sent for sabotage against the regime of President Daoud.  (Read details in my Pashto work Daramsal la Khaty درمسال له خټې  and Urdu book فریب نا تما م ) Here also it is Afghanistan which initiates the game of armed interference.

In early February 1975, Former Governor of KP Province, Senior Minister and Pakistan People’s Party KP leader, Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao, is assassinated in a bomb blast in a ceremony held in University of Peshawar; National Awami Party is banned and its leaders and functionaries arrested and afterwards tried in Hyderabad Tribunal on conspiracy charges; the murder culprits escape to Afghanistan and son of Khan Abdul Wali Khan, President of National Awami Party, Asfandyar Wali Khan and others are arrested.  Relations between the two neighbors dip nose dive.  Unable to cope with the rising sabotage activities inside the country, especially the Panjsher operation in July 1975 unnerves President Daoud’s regime, so he embarks upon measures to wriggle out of this situation.  He comes closer to Iran, Saudi Arabia and indirectly to US.  He afterwards says goodbye to Pakhtun and Baluch militant émigrés living in Afghanistan, make overtures to Pakistan. (Read my books)

The earthquake in Badghis province of Afghanistan prompting Pakistan to immediately send aid material though air and provide cash money for the victims break the ice and Afghanistan invites Prime Minister Bhutto to visit Afghanistan. In June 1976 Bhutto visits Kabul and relations are restored to near normalcy. In August President Daoud pays a return visit to Pakistan. Afghan President urges the incarcerated NAP leaders to come to terms with Bhutto. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan agree in principle to forge a confederation of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. The diehard supporter of Pakhtunistan issue foregoes its stand on Durand Line. But for the fear of existence of communists in the government, Daoud Khan urges a step-by-step approach until he gets rid of them.  (Read Foreign Policy in Perspective by Benazir Bhutto available on internet, as well as account of Tariq Azizuddin former ambassador to Afghanistan, then host of Afghan President) In June Bhutto goes to Afghanistan on a brief visit.

On 4 July 1977 a military coup brings Ziaul Haq to power in Pakistan and the understanding reached with Afghanistan assumes a new turn. A general amnesty is announced in Pakistan and the NAP leaders are released.  In October President Zia visits Kabul. In March 1978 President Daoud returns the visit.  The April coup of 1978 in Afghanistan overturns the understanding reached between the two countries. But Pakistan still believes that somehow relations may be salvaged.  In September 1978 while visiting Afghanistan President Zia urges the new leadership to go slow on their propaganda against Pakistan, exchange dissidents of each other, and do not take any step to mar the relations between the two countries.  But the revolutionary leaders believing in the invincibility of socialist system and its onward march and irreversibility of their relationship with USSR take him for a joke. Soon they would be blaming Pakistan for all the resistance against their regime and requesting USSR to protect their revolution from the onslaught of imperialism and regional reaction.

This was just the background of the mistrust being created in Afghanistan against Pakistan in which cold war and regional power like India, erstwhile Indian nationalist-turned-Pakhtun nationalists after inception of Pakistan, played their part.  Afghanistan has always preferred India over its immediate neighbour Pakistan, with which it is tied in numerous ways. This has given birth to a wealth of literature moulding an anti-Pakistan mindset there in Afghanistan.

I do not want to dwell on the recent history in chronological order which is too obvious and oft-narrated. This is the story of Soviet intervention and the start of international jihad fought with the willing Afghan blood from 1980 to 1992 when the regime of Dr Najibullah was collapsed.  The jihad was led by US in league with Saudi Arabia and supported by West, Arabs and China. The jihad of Afghanistan could have not succeeded without Pakistani logistic help and facilitation and providing its land to millions of Afghan refugees – the recruiting ground for jihad.

The rule of Taliban was extension of mujahideen (mis)rule.  They were indigenous force emerged out of mujahideen milieu and welcomed by ordinary Afghans against chaos and lawlessness and inability of mujahideen parties to establish a functioning and workable government. No doubt they got the support of Pakistan as well as Saudi Arabia and UAE and even initially Americans were favourably inclined to them.  But their harsh and extremist policies soon alienated them from international community.  It was the only government that Pakistan felt comfortable with, not because they were stooges (Afghans have no capacity to become stooges though they themselves may perceive and say otherwise), but because their own worldview view coincided with Pakistan security concerns.  Their hostility to India was not out of love for Pakistan; their own faith dictated so.

Questions are being asked in Pakistan these days that was it beneficial for Pakistan to become a willing party in this international enterprise?  As Pakistan is itself now victim of the worst type of terrorism and also being blamed for all sorts of terrorism happening in the region, foremost in Afghanistan.  They argue that going out of the way to help jihad, it earned Pakistan nothing nor mujahideen leaders, trained, equipped and financed by it, though with outside help, listened to its advice later on. Even Taliban did not do things on its prodding as proved from their refusal to recognise the Durand Line, to desist from destroying Bamiyan Statues and to expel Osama bin Ladin.

The Afghan jihad radicalised the tolerant and secular civil society of Pakistan.  It brought Kalashnikov and heroin culture. It produced myriad jihadi and sectarian outfits. It destroyed its fragile infrastructure. It devastated its ecology and stripped naked its mountains and deserts.  It overwhelmed its meagre welfare system.  It spread corruption and money culture on a scale which was unknown before. One can go on and on and also count some pluses like any other social phenomenon, but on balance minuses are huge.

9/11 changed the world. The epicentre of this change was Afghanistan.  Again without the logistic and political support of Pakistan, Taliban could not have been replaced so easily.  But there are question marks about the authority which was cobbled together.  Even the sagacity of the Bonn Conference is being questioned now in the West, while most Afghans were not happy with this arrangement.   Scapegoating is easiest thing and we all are adept at doing it.  But the reality is that it neither stabilised internal situation nor created conducive conditions for regional peace.  For Pakistan it also became a nightmarish scenario.  Instead of feeling free of past hangover, the security concerns again started emanating from Afghanistan.  Afghanistan also needed a scapegoat and the mindset in Afghanistan was congenial for it.  Haqqani network or no Haqqani network, Quetta Shura or no Quetta Shura, border remaining open or closed, refugees remain in Pakistan or repatriated to Afghanistan – the blame game directed against Pakistan invariably will continue.  This is very unfortunate.  This is the legacy of past.  I do not blame Afghanistan; the establishment in Pakistan also does not read the fine print of relationship with Afghanistan.  Instead of agreeing to all terms and conditions of the international community, it should have put its concerns in clear terms to US.  There would have been no need of tolerating the presence of Taliban.

On the other hand, there is a genuine case of Pakistan with India.  In Musharraf time out of the box solution acceptable to all three parties, Pakistan, Kashmiris and India, was agreed upon, but due to reluctance in Delhi it did not materialise.  Kashmir is a dispute which is not only internationally but also bilaterally recognised.  If Pakistan foregoes Kashmir, Kashmiris will not let it happen as proved by the current spontaneous uprising in Indian Occupied Kashmir.  In this equation, Afghanistan tilts towards India against the dictates of geography.  Instead of becoming a mediator or a well-wisher of both, it plays one against the other and invites unhelpful rivalry.

If Pakistani policies are India-focussed, Afghan policies are Pakistan specific.  I may be wrong but that is my experience and observation.  But without paying attention to the irritants between these two countries, which is not as difficult as Kashmir issue is, the region will remain unstable despite some temporary friendly respites.  If I may borrow one of Mr. Karzai’ s observation that Afghanistan and Pakistan are conjoined twins,  if one feels pain the other cannot remain immune. They are more than just neighbours.  And neighbours cannot be chosen.  They are there fixed in geographical location.  Geography cannot be altered. Pakistan and Afghanistan are two neighbours dependent upon each other.  Visa or no visa, Chahbahar or no Chahbahar, both peoples cannot do without each other.  Keeping aside the blame game, terrorism is common menace for both countries.

However, they must recognise the fact that they live in two separate countries.  The softer and recognised the border remains, the more it will benefit them. It is not concern of government and people of either country what sort of government is there in the other country.  They must not play game of favourites in each other countries.  Both have committed mistakes in this regard.

Afghanistan and Pakistan need to shed their past baggage.  They should rethink over their policies, alter negatives in their respective stances and come to a comprehensive understanding encompassing all issues and concerns.  To take ad hoc and half measures aimed at allaying the temporary apprehensions of international community are not enough.  Both need to sign and abide by a new treaty of friendship and good-neighbourliness -the premises of which should be in loud and clear terms the recognition of each other territorial integrity and national sovereignty under the present internationally recognised borders. Apart from political, religious, linguistic, social and economic ties, the treaty must encompass a new commercial agreement and, foremost, a water distribution accord – an urgent need of the hour and an oft-expressed irritant in Afghanistan.  This sort of treaty should be short of confederation.

If I may refer to an observation made by a British diplomat and writer who spent many years in British embassy at Kabul, first as secretary, then as a councillor and lastly as ambassador, William Ker Fraser-Tytler, the matter could become clear.   While lamenting that the British, instead of finishing the job of either reaching the Hindukush or withdrawing to Indus, left an unfinished business and created a no man wild land between the two countries which is and I may quote his words “anachronism and a danger to the stability of northern India and peace of Central Asia.  The remedy is the fusion of the two States of Afghanistan and Pakistan in some way or other…But history suggests that fusion will take place, if not peaceably, then by force.” (Afghanistan. A Study in Political Developments in Central and Southern Asia, London, Oxford University Press, 1950) God forbids, force should never be an option.

The writer is an expert in Area studies

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