Of late bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan nosedived after several terrorist attacks in Pakistan in which Afghan nationals were found involved — leading subsequently to the closure of the Durand Line border between the two countries.
Ties between Islamabad and Kabul have never been smooth and there have always been issues in mutual relations mainly due to historical distrust between them.
The distrust is rooted in their respective national narrative, which has historically been dominated by their undemocratic and non-representative power elite. Pakistani power elite is composed mostly of its civil-military bureaucracy and the agriculture and industrial classes. The Afghan power elite have traditionally been composed of its civil-military-intelligence establishment and so-called politicians, mostly members of Communist groups, without having a political constituency plus certain pseudo-intellectuals.
In order to have legitimacy, the undemocratic power elite in Afghanistan supported by the national media networks and in pursuit of their vested commercial interests, have been fanning sentiments of hatred among Afghans against Pakistan. Consequently, Afghanistan, without any legal ground, since Pakistan’s emergence in 1947, has been raising irridentist claims on large tracts of Pakistani territory. This was the origin of the distrust between Islamabad and Kabul. Otherwise, before getting independence Muslims of areas comprising Pakistan had had a great reverence and emotional attachment with Afghans. For instance, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali while proposing the name PAKISTAN included Afghania or Afghan as a main component in the terms or concept of Pakistan. Consequently, since the early 1970s Pakistan, equally without any legal justification, has been trying to locate strategic depth in Afghanistan by making the state its virtual dependency. However, one aspect of these relations is quite clear that it was Afghanistan which initiated issues between the two countries, thinking Pakistan as one of the successor states of British India would be weak. It proved otherwise however for Afghanistan.
In order to pursue their respective interests the power elite of Afghanistan and Pakistan have also been creating and supporting proxy militant and terrorist groups to create conditions for realisation of these objectives. Therefore, Afghanistan started by hosting and cultivating Pakistani Pashtun separatists by forming a terrorist group ‘Zalmay Pashtun’ to carry our terrorist attacks in Pakistan in the 1970s to create conditions for secession of Pashtun areas of Pakistan and formation of a pro-Afghanistan, Pashtunistan state besides hosting and nurturing Pakistani Baloch separatists. Pakistan responded by hosting anti-government Afghan clerics in Pakistan and militants trained them to create trouble in Afghanistan followed by hosting, training and arming anti-Soviet Afghan Mujahideen (1980s) and the Taliban (since 1994) to capture state power in Afghanistan and thus to provide Islamabad strategic depth in Afghanistan vis-a-vis India. Thus it has been the undemocratic and unrepresentative power elites of Pakistan and Afghanistan which have been formulating policies regarding the other state, which have been to the detriment of common Pakistanis and Afghans and thus regional peace and stability. However, the realities of international politics also played a significant role in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan in which both states have been pursuing their perceived national interest rather than having friendly or good neighbourly ties with the other. The Democratic Peace Theory of International Relations contends that two democratic states do not go to war and create conflict and try to resolve their disputes pacifically. Whereas, the theory of liberal economic interdependence argues that trade between states creates economic interdependence and disincentives war and conflict between and among states. Another theory Material Incentives as Drivers of Political Violence (Humphreys and Weinstein, 2008) argues that groups resort to violence in order to get material incentives. All these theories are quite relevant to the undemocratic power elite-dictated relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
To sort out the distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan there is a need for continued democratic institutionalisation, which is possible in turn through enhanced participation of Pakistanis and Afghans in the democratic processes, which in turn is possible through informed public opinion to know the objectives of their power elite policies regarding each other’s state. Moreover, that the trans-boundary water and energy projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan are mutually beneficial; therefore they must be supported. Unfortunately, little development is taking place in Afghanistan regarding democratic institutionalization. Moreover, while Pakistan has shunned its policy of locating strategic depth in Afghanistan as unequivocally announced by Adviser to Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz some months back, Kabul is still refusing to recognise the Durand Line as the permanent border between the two countries. In this situation distrust cannot be removed.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2017.