Afghanistan’s growing hostility to Pakistan

Pakistan stands ready to resolve all bilateral issues and concerns through constructive dialogue

Dr Moonis Ahmar September 19, 2023
The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Science, University of Karachi and can be reached at


Pakistan stands ready to resolve all bilateral issues and concerns through constructive dialogue so that both countries can reap the dividends of economic connectivity and resultant prosperity. We expect the Afghan interim authorities to be mindful of Pakistan’s concerns, respect the territorial integrity of Pakistan and ensure that the Afghan territory is not used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Pakistan.—Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson.

The aggravating relations Pakistan and Afghanistan in the wake of accusations and counter-accusations from both sides and back-to-back terrorist attacks from Afghanistan reflect serious hostility and trust deficit between the two countries. Closing and opening of Torkham border crossing and warning by Pakistan that under no condition it will allow Afghanistan to construct structures on its territory means a serious rupture in the bilateral relations, with the Taliban regime accusing Pakistan of opening fire on Afghan security forces and creating problems at Karachi port, violating the trade and transit agreement.

Why is the Taliban regime pursuing hostile posture vis-à-vis Pakistan and how will the prevailing unfriendly environment have negative ramifications for the two countries? What are the options for Pakistan to deal with Afghanistan’s hostile behaviour? What is behind the growing confidence of the Taliban regime as regards its open defiance against Pakistan?

Five decades of civil war, foreign intervention and unrest in Afghanistan not only negatively impacted Pakistan but also emerged as a major destabilising factor in Central, South and West Asia. Pakistan’s Afghan predicament and its growing hostility vis-à-vis Islamabad needs to be analysed from three angles.

First, there is a historical dimension of inconsistent and unstable Pak-Afghan relations. For instance, Afghanistan was the first state to cast a negative vote when Pakistan’s case for membership in the UN was presented in October 1947. Not even India, an arch foe of Pakistan, had cast a negative vote. But Kabul rejected the Pak-Afghan border i.e. Durand Line as unacceptable and launched irredentist claims over the territories of Pakistan particularly its Pashtun belt. It thus refused to support Pakistan’s UN membership. The bilateral relations worsened with the passage of time, leading to break-up of diplomatic ties in early 1960s, to be restored later because of mediation by the then Shah of Iran. Yet, despite its claims over Pakistani territories under the so-called bogey of ‘Pakhtoonistan’, Kabul remained neutral during the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971. Pakistan joining the Western alliances of Baghdad Pact (renamed as Cento) and South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) antagonised not only the then USSR but also India and Afghanistan. In 1955, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited New Delhi, Srinagar and Kabul and used the visits to vent his country’s anger against Pakistan by supporting the Indian stance over occupied Kashmir and Afghanistan’s support for Pakhtoonistan movement. Against this bitter historical background, one can understand why since 1947, no regime in Kabul, including the two governments of Taliban, were friendly towards Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s interventionist policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan is also a fundamental reason behind anti-Pakistan feelings in Kabul.

Second, Afghanistan is 200-year older than Pakistan as the first Afghan state, integrating various tribes, was established in 1747 by Ahmed Shah Abdali; but somehow it failed to emerge as a nation state and its fault-lines resulted into violence and wars deepened because it was unable to eradicate its tribal system and promote an enlightened mindset, particularly in the vastly conservative and ultra-religious segment of Afghan society. Efforts to modernise and democratise Afghanistan failed because the leadership did not show commitment for pro-people development, nor did it adhere to the fundamentals of human rights, democracy, political pluralism, rule of law and good governance. It is the second time that the Taliban captured power but they failed to learn from their past blunders. They are as retrogressive and backward in their mindset as they were when they first seized power in September 1996. Depriving women, who form half of the total population, of their fundamental rights like seeking education, employment and free travel reflects how intolerant they are to their own people. While the Afghan state and society don’t adhere to political pluralism, democracy and modernisation of their way of life, there is no dearth of people in Pakistan also who support ultra-conservative and anti-women rights elements in Afghanistan and want to establish a similar way of life in their country.

For the second time, Pakistan has been instrumental in imposing Taliban rule in Afghanistan for reasons like having a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul rather than a regime with close rapport with India. If Pakistan was not supportive of the Taliban capturing power on August 15, why the then spy chief of Pakistan paid a visit to Kabul towards the end of the month, confidently predicting a smooth sailing for the Taliban regime? Unfortunately, Pakistan miscalculated its expectations from both Taliban regimes and failed to get consent from Kabul about recognising the ‘Durand Line’.

Till the time Islamabad follows the mindset that Afghanistan must remain under its influence, it will not be able to have normal relations with Kabul. This time, the Taliban regime appears to be smarter than their previous counterparts as they have distanced themselves from Pakistan and are showing to the world that they are better off by making indigenous efforts for rebuilding of their war-torn country; and that they can progress by innovating world’s longest canal in a desert without empowering their women population and without political pluralism.

Third, the Pak-Afghan hostility reached its climax when both governments accused each other of interference and intervention. Pakistan’s foreign ministry and its Afghan counterpart are engaged in relentless accusations against each other, with Kabul blaming Islamabad of violating trade and transit agreement by closing Torkham border crossing and not clearing Afghan imports and exports at Karachi port.

Alarmists predict outbreak of hostilities between Afghanistan and Pakistan if the smuggling of dollars, food items, etc is stopped and the Torkham border remains uncertain. It is high time for the two sides to agree to resolve contentious issues through purposeful dialogue.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2023.

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