Afghanistan’s real problem with Pakistan is non-recognition of its sovereignty….writes Samuel Baid
Whosoever thought of using the Afghan territory for strategic depth for Pakistan in the event of a war with India, unconsciously supported Kabul’s opposition to 123-year old Durand Line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan rejects this line while Pakistan swears by it.
The recent exchange of fire between the Afghan and Pakistani troops at Torkham border is in fact rooted in this controversy. The real issue is a gate which Pakistan is building at Torkham and claims it is well within its own territory and is meant to regulate the flow of people moving to and fro between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kabul, which is against this gate, rejects Islamabad’s argument. Afghan Ambassador to Islamabad has written a letter to Pakistani Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif saying that if the issue of construction of the gate is not resolved he would resign from his post. He said he had been assured that the work on the gate would stop. But that did not happen.
In the early 1890s, the then British rulers of India had, in pursuit of their forward policy, drawn the Durand line dividing thousands of Pashtun families between Afghanistan and then United India in its north-West area. Sir Mortimer Durand was assigned the job of drawing this line. He increased the subsidy for then ruler of Afghanistan from Rs. 12 Lakh to Rs. 18 Lakh and got the job done in 1893. But the people of Afghanistan rose in a bitter revolt and till this day they do not accept this line. They refused to accept Pakistan when it came into being after the partition in 1947. In the United Nations, Afghanistan was the only country which opposed recognition of Pakistan.
During the Afghan War in the 1980s Gen Ziaul Haq, then military ruler of Pakistan, virtually rubbed off the Durand line by inviting millions of Pashtuns from Afghanistan to Pakistan in the wake of the erstwhile USSR troops’ entry into Afghanistan. Amusingly, in 1893 Sir Mortimer Durand paid the Mir of Afghanis and drew the Durand line and in the 1980s the United States paid Gen Zia for virtually undoing this line by bringing Pashtuns into Pakistan from Afghanistan. Once in Pakistan’s tribal areas the Pashtun refugees refused to accept the Durand line and claimed they were on their own land. Today an unspecified number of Pashtuns who came to Pakistan as refugees from Afghanistan in the 1980s stay put there and have raised families.
During Gen Zia’s time there was another development which showed that Pakistan was non-serious about the Durand Line: its main interest lays in the control of Afghanistan as a colony. Pakistan exploited the Afghan War for a number of objectives.
Two of them were: (1) to carry on its nuclear programme and used US naivety to get a certificate from the US President every year that Pakistan was not engaged in nuclear programme; (2) After the Soviet troops leave Afghanistan, Pakistan should fill the vacuum. Such unofficial opinions were expressed in Pak newspapers.
After the Soviet troops were out of Afghanistan, Pakistan imposed Taliban rule on Afghanistan in the hope to control that country through Pakistan-educated Taliban. Among other things, Pakistan managed to keep India out of Afghanistan as long as the Taliban ruled it. In 2001 Gen Pervez Musharraf pleaded with the US not to disturb the Taliban government when punishing Al-Qaeda for its role in the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. He had argued that India should be kept out of Afghanistan with which the former had no borders.
There is nothing to suggest that Pakistan’s policy, of using Afghanistan as a strategic depth in the event of war with India, envisaged pre-permission of Kabul. It seemed that Pakistan took Afghanistan for granted whether there is or there is not a Durand line. There is a suggestion in Pakistan that the present gate controversy at Torkham was meant to avenge Afghanistan joining Iran and India in a new trilateral economic alliance which Pakistan military establishment considered as encirclement of Pakistan. But the Foreign Office spokesman denied this reasoning of the Torkham skirmish with Afghanistan. He also claimed that Pakistan had no problem with Afghanistan’s relations, with India.
Pakistan’s persistent support to the Afghan Taliban, who do not want peace with the Afghan government and enjoy this country’s protection in safe havens, is a proof that both Islamabad and Rawalpindi have not freed itself from the obsession of controlling Afghanistan despite all the billions of dollars it has taken from the US. The Army keeps on making claims to success of its Zarb-e-Azb operations against “terrorists” without discrimination through its media wing, the Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR). But what really is happening in targeted areas nobody knows not even the internally displaced persons (IDPs) about whom the ISPR keeps on claiming that most of them have returned home.
The Afghan Taliban, who stage terrorist activities in Afghanistan from Pakistan, have been relocated. Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister is on record as saying that why should Pakistan fight those terrorists who do not harm Pakistan, had disclosed the Army’s real policy behind its claim to its operations that they were without any discrimination. That should explain why the Haqqani network continues to be safe in Pakistan. A test for Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy lies in its recognition of this country’s sovereignty. Afghanistan’s problem is not whether or not the Afghan Taliban are amenable to the pleas of for countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US for participating in peace talks: it’s problem is non-recognition of its sovereignty by Pakistan, Once it is done, the Taliban terrorism will die down for lack of support.