What does Pakistan want in Afghanistan?

Published: December 27, 2011
The writer was foreign secretary from 1994-97 and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran (1992-94) and the US (1990-91)

The writer was foreign secretary from 1994-97 and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran (1992-94) and the US (1990-91)

Since April, 1978, when the Saur Revolution brought down President Daud’s regime, Afghans have been at war against the local communists, against invading Soviet forces and then, against each other. This last power struggle caused greater material losses than the decade-long Soviet occupation. Taliban rule was a continuation of the same strife. The internecine war and then the Taliban ascendancy both had ethnic overtones — massacres of Hazaras by the Tajiks and then the Taliban, the killing of Uzbeks and then the slaughter of the Taliban in Mazar Sharif.

Pakistan was seen as the root of all of Afghanistan’s problems by the Northern Alliance. Ahmad Shah Masood masterminded the attack on our embassy in September 1995, in retaliation for the assistance that Pakistan had allegedly rendered to the Taliban in conquering Herat.

In fact, Pakistan recognised the danger of continued ethnic strife, its impact on our tribal areas and on our domestic polity. (In August, 2001, just a month before 9/11, Deputy Secretary of State Armitage talked of a new relationship with Pakistan based on preventing the ‘Talibanisation of Pakistan’.) In 1992, we tried to get the Mujahideen parties to agree to a power sharing arrangement pending elections. This effort was frustrated partly by the personal ambitions of the Mujahideen leaders and partly because the right ethnic balance could not be struck — the Iranians stressed that 30 per cent of the posts should go to the Shias even while the Hazaras, the principal Shia group in Afghanistan, represented no more than eight per cent of the population and Hikmatyar, our protégé, refused to accept even temporarily a lead role for Rabbani’s Tajik Jamaat-e-Islami.

In 1996, after the Taliban conquest of Kabul, we proposed a ceasefire, an exchange of prisoners and an eventual power sharing arrangement between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. This foundered on the rocks of Taliban intransigence which owed in part to ideology, in part to their belief that the Pakistani effort was not backed by all power centres in Pakistan and in part to the conviction that outside powers supporting the Northern Alliance would sabotage good faith negotiations.

When the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan and were seen by the rest of the world as wholly dependent on Pakistan, we discovered the limits of the influence we could exercise. They dismissed any notion of formalising the Durand Line, claiming that “between the ummah there could be no borders”, rejected our pleas to spare the Bamiyan statues and perhaps, most importantly, refused to hand over Pakistani extremists such as Riaz Basra who had sought shelter in Afghanistan. After 9/11, they dismissed yet again our pleas that they should surrender Bin Laden and spare their country and ours the devastation that was otherwise bound to come from a vengeful US.

After 9/11, Pashtuns in the north of the country became the victims of reprisal attacks by the Tajiks and Uzbeks. At the Bonn conference, the Pashtuns were politically marginalised in a country in which, contrary to currently accepted figures, they were a majority and not just a plurality. This gave the Taliban the chance to rebuild a base of support based not on their rigid and alien ideology but on their self-assigned role of being the flag-bearers of Pashtun nationalism. Yet at no time during the 33-years of strife did any Afghan leader ever suggest that Afghanistan be split into two or more parts.

This necessarily selective recollection of Afghanistan’s political history has lessons to offer for determining what Pakistan can and should want in Afghanistan. First and perhaps most important, no Afghan leader is prepared to endorse or countenance the break-up of the country on ethnic lines but the days of Pashtun let alone Taliban domination cannot be resurrected. Second, a power-sharing arrangement will come only when the Afghans can sit together and be sure that there will be no external interference. Third, no Taliban or other Pashtun leader will easily give ground on the irredentist claims against Pakistan. The Taliban limit their ambitions to Afghanistan but their definition of Afghanistan includes large parts of Pakistan. Fourth a dominant Taliban presence on our borders will be an ideological threat. Today we may believe there is a distance between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban. We may be right in suggesting that the TTP largely comprises criminal elements and derives support from inimical external agencies. But let us not forget that most of them proudly proclaim their sworn loyalty to Mullah Omar and profess to want the imposition of the same Taliban ideology in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (36)

  • Concerned
    Dec 27, 2011 - 11:50PM

    Brilliantly written. It is a shame that Pakistan’s proxies in Afghanistan were so astonishingly shortsighted. Pakistan’s foreign policy, and its own domestic policy of using religion as a political tool must start changing, it is leading us to ruin. Granted that America’s policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan are akin to a bull in a china shop, but we share this responsibility of moulding religion and ethnicity for ‘strategic depth’. It would be naive to assume that Pakistan will not try and influence Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal, however, we can’t let it slip back oblivion. Its not good for us, nor is it good for the Afghan people.

    I hope that good sense prevails in the future, because God knows, we’re being taken for an almighty rollercoaster ride.


  • Max
    Dec 28, 2011 - 12:07AM

    Pakistan was an honest and sincere broker but our intentions were always read wrong by all involved. It happens that the messenger gets killed when the stakes are too high for all the involved. Yes! some of our big-mouth uniform people started expressing their personal ambitions in a lousy and noisy way. That is where we got distracted.


  • Abdul
    Dec 28, 2011 - 12:08AM

    “they dismissed yet again our pleas that they should surrender Bin Laden and spare their country and ours the devastation that was otherwise bound to come from a vengeful US.”

    But ex ISI chief General Mahmood was telling the Taliban not to give in to the American demands of handing over Osama. He even told the Taliban that Pakistan will be there to assist them incase of any invasion, so much hypocracy. Pakistani establishment on the one hand helped the Taliban who were under their leash, sold those to the Americans who they thought were troublemakers.


  • immi
    Dec 28, 2011 - 12:10AM

    i wonder for how long will these so called intellectuals carry on fooling their readers by quoting wrong historical facts……..


  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 28, 2011 - 12:27AM

    What is iran problem is it shia country or muslim country? and why they allways just talk for
    shia rights not for muslim rights we pakistan had so many shias peoples on the good posts
    we never said that and we believed they gonna help us in the electric crisis i dont think so
    and i think west and saudia are right on iran.


  • mansoon
    Dec 28, 2011 - 1:49AM

    pakistan will be worst off with US/NATO out of afganistan.

    till USA is there it need some pakistani help but once out of that place US will not be obliged to care for pakistani drama.
    we can expect strong US santions against pakistan for all its omission and commission during its stay there and we may see US getting even with pakistan.

    i fear pakistan being declared a terriorist state after 2014.time very very limited for pakistan to change course and pakistan army should dread the arrival of 2014. instead of pakistani’s glee at US defeat in afganistan they should be very veryconcerned about this outcome as this only will make US their sworn enemy and pakistan their next target.
    enemity with US will cause trreat to pakistan existence .


  • rk from NY
    Dec 28, 2011 - 5:13AM

    pak should first worry about its own existance…its on a freefall and after US leaves and stops feeding the pakis..pak wil be totally disintegrated…its never grown or developed economicaly since it was formed…it only existed to spread terror to its neighbors..now after US leaves..it will be so unbalanced and will disintegrate…so instead of worrying about afghanistan, pak should first ensure its existance on world map….


  • Dec 28, 2011 - 6:08AM

    Thoughtful write-up Sir. My guess is you presumed a few things. For instance, following may be your wishful thinking, the reality may be debatable:

    After 9/11, they dismissed yet again our pleas that they should surrender Bin Laden and spare their country and ours


  • Zalim singh
    Dec 28, 2011 - 9:03AM



  • Harry Stone
    Dec 28, 2011 - 10:22AM

    A more pointed question would be

    “What does Pakistan want in Pakistan?”


  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Dec 28, 2011 - 11:27AM


    i wonder for how long will these so
    called intellectuals carry on fooling
    their readers by quoting wrong
    historical facts

    Sir, point us towards the right historical facts. Even a hyperlink would suffice.


  • Falcon
    Dec 28, 2011 - 11:54AM

    @rk from NY:
    My friend other than plain rhetoric…do you even know how much aid US gives to Pakistan vs. Pakistan’s GDP and how does this aid funnel through to different sectors of the economy and what are the costs of providing logistical support to US??? Pakistan existed before it was relying on crutches of US aid and will continue to do so.

    Take up a book and do some reading please before commenting on everything!


  • Dec 28, 2011 - 12:16PM

    All we want in Afghanistan is …Pakistan…


  • Arifq
    Dec 28, 2011 - 1:06PM

    Why should Pakistan want anything in Afghanistan? Concept of strategic depth flows both ways, therefore it’s in our best interest to leave Afghans to their own designs, even better put it in the constitution anyone interfering in Afghanistan or any other country shall be treated as a criminal and charged for treason.


  • Ali-wali
    Dec 28, 2011 - 1:07PM

    @Ali Tanoli: Iran has same concerns for Shia and Farsiwans in general as Pakistan for has for Pashtuns, writer failed to mention that Pashtun Shias like Ayotollah Mohasni were Taliban supporters. And you brought the subject of Pakistani Shias, what if founding father of Pakistan was a Shia! leave aside the financial support of prominent Shias like Raja Sahib of Mahmoodabad, Nawab Usman Ali Khan wali Hyderabad and Sir Agha Khan without which the dream of separate homeland for Muslims was a none starter. In Pakistan bigoted narrow minded people so conveniently over look Shia contribution to our society, Shia are our army’s best fighting personals, scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers, politicians, farmers and ordinary law abiding citizens. Certain hateful sections of establishment who have aversion to query, manage to inculcate Shiaphobia, which is tearing apart the very fabric of our society.Recommend

  • agnostic
    Dec 28, 2011 - 2:55PM

    Ali [email protected] “why they allways just talk for shia rights not for muslim rights”

    Extending the argument little further why should you people always talk about Muslim rights and not about human rights. You implicitly believe that only Muslims are humans and people of other faiths or no faith are some how lesser human beings as they don’t believe in your perception of truth (read religion here).


  • Meekal Ahmed
    Dec 28, 2011 - 4:07PM

    Memogate, Veena Malick and Afghanistan.

    Is there nothing else to write about?


  • Cautious
    Dec 28, 2011 - 6:14PM

    Title of the article is better than the subsequent rambling content.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 28, 2011 - 6:15PM

    @Ali Wali,
    Yes that what i means we never had problem with shias even founding father we called him qauid azam and Rehmallah elay but why iran has allways just talk for shia of labanon, iraq,
    kashmir, afghanistan, Hazara tribe, and pakistani shias even though they are better off in pakistan even today so many iranis come to pakistan gets passport then travel to west and still crectisized pakistan what a shame is not it and we have ocean hearts but arabs and fars
    doesnot even treat us like muslim am i right or not because i have seen this thing i have live
    ed in mid east i will say they called us hindi which i proud of we are hindi muslims.


  • Aftab kenneth Wilson
    Dec 28, 2011 - 6:24PM

    Why don’t we leave Afghanistan alone and mind our own business??? We must now stop giving historical backgrounds and start looking towards inwards whether we had any and if we did had then it is more related with that which was before 1947.


    Dec 28, 2011 - 8:11PM

    Military who decides the foreign policy have to take off their blinkers and review its fatal attraction and obsession for Afghan Taleban as future rulers of Afghanistan. As brought out by the writer this outfit had previously refused to take orders from Pakistan and its agenda of enforcing sharia is not only restricted to Afghanistan but Pakistan as well. TTP and even JuD have also opened their cards on this issue quite openly which is a ominous sign for Pakistan which should not be ignored as the whole country could be engulfed in flames if Afghan Taleban decides to join their brothers in arms in Pakistan to implement this well known mission.


  • Ali-wali
    Dec 28, 2011 - 8:57PM

    @Ali Tanoli: Sir you are right gulf people do not appreciate the value of Pakistani labour, a dear friend who is working as a senior civil engineer in Gulf doesn’t have favourable opinion on Arabs as well. It is also a fact that Iranian government is forcibly repatriating Hazara people from Iran. Pakistani Shia are not Iranians and Iranian government does not formulate it’s policies keeping them in mind, it is as simple as that. Whatever position Pakistani Shia achieve in our society is solely due to their abilities, not due to foreign patronage.


  • Dec 29, 2011 - 12:42AM

    I like how the article also correctly mentions how ethnic nationalism plays in the issues between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    It’s time we put aside our old constructed narrative religious/ethnic bias and racism and realize that there is a large population of non-Pashtun Afghans whose will needs to be recognized and respected. We shouldn’t be exploiting either them or Pashtun Afghans or Pakistanis.

    And absolutely NO to the Taliban tribal extremist ideology, which the author correctly notes, they would love to implement in Pakistan as well, as they claim some of the land as their own.

    But unfortunately our establishment’s anti-India paranoia and propensity to tolerate violent militants as a means will trump all reason, indeed some being so steeped in ideology that they outright have the same insane beliefs as the Taliban.


  • You Said It
    Dec 29, 2011 - 1:50AM

    @Meekal Ahmed:

    Memogate, Veena Malick and Afghanistan.
    Is there nothing else to write about?

    You missed Imran. But really, what else is worth writing about in Pakistan these days.


  • nazarrabi
    Dec 29, 2011 - 1:53AM

    the ? is wear do we pashtuns stand,wear do we stand in the next century,are we are going to be brain wash in the name pakistan,islam,taliban,khan,pathan,right now our children are bean confused by Foreign language,our people are confused, i think the unity of pashtuns come first,we cant talk about unity of pakistan, or unity of afghanistan, or unity of islam, and unity of humanity,well we pashtuns are Divided,long live pashtunistan united we stand,we want our right in order serve humanity,Recommend

  • kandahar
    Dec 29, 2011 - 2:15AM

    most of the above comments are pakicentric, most afghans have seen pakistan as an eternal enemy of afghanistan because of the durand line, The pakish design to use terror in order to stop the fragmentation of paki is unavoidabe with their current government with control of ISI and subsequently the fundimentalistic islamic ideology . Unless paki implement the democratic rule and join the world community ,it’s fragmentation is ultimatly unavoidable, This policy of breeding terrorism to prevent indian control in the region and influence in afghanistan is futile. leave afghanistan alone , we afghan believe that pakis are doing all the efforts to keep us illitrate and keep us away from science and technology and they are brain washing us in the terror breeding factories (islamic madrassas ) of paki.


  • G. Din
    Dec 29, 2011 - 7:04PM

    “What does Pakistan want in Afghanistan?”
    Nothing, when Pakistanis have decided:”Hum to doobenge hee sanam, tum ko ley doobenge hum”. (We are going to sink anyways, we will drag you down with us.)


    Dec 29, 2011 - 9:38PM

    @G. Din:
    Funny statement but true. Even US regretting having taken Pakistan as ally.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 29, 2011 - 9:45PM

    @G Dinm
    Becarfull invaders all ways used this passge to rules india so might be next sinking boat could be india..


  • G. Din
    Dec 30, 2011 - 1:15AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    I am sorry I did request the moderators to provide you the services of an interpreter/translator. You don’t make any sense!


  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 30, 2011 - 8:44PM

    @G Din
    Thank god u know little bite of masters language….


  • Cynical
    Dec 31, 2011 - 4:48AM

    Nothing much. We want majority seats in Afghan parliament.To have the Afghan army under our command will be a bonus.


  • nazarrabi
    Dec 31, 2011 - 8:52PM

    British Dividing Pashtuns Cultural Root for Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Wars

    The root reason that Afghanistan will always be “the graveyard of pashtuns” is the Durand line established by the British in 1897 to split up Pashtun tribes; the cleaving of “Pashtunistan” leaves some Pashtuns in Afghanistan and the rest in Pakistan.


  • Dec 31, 2011 - 9:13PM

    Dear readers,

    Please read the reply of a young writer to this article. His article can be searched with the name of Liaquat Ali Hazara or go to Pakistanblogzine.wordpress.com.

    Before commenting on the correctness of Najmuddin Sheik’s article, you must read Liaquat’s article to explore the other side of the picture.


  • nazarrabi
    Jan 3, 2012 - 10:34AM

    i see my self pashtuns, not pakistani to me the pashtuns unity come first,indian or pakistan,
    lollywood and bollyood is a samething, just to divided pashtuns,the pashtunistan issue is not going goaway we will past this to our children


  • nazarrabi
    Jan 4, 2012 - 12:59AM

    Punjab is planning to divide pashtun land into pieces,be united

    Many of you might be thinking that we got a name in pakistan which was approved by the punjabi govt.The anp and other nationalists never demanded the double name however ,,anp,,has a history of compromising on pashtun rights.They act like a tools for the punjabi establishment.Here once again they made historical mistake by adding ,,khyber,,to it to keep the badhsah of lahore happy.
    Now why the punjabi establishment approved this name?
    Well,after the ,,anp,,govt the next one will use only khyber like ,,shamal magrabi sarhadi soba,,was never used in general.They always called this part ,,sarhad,,.
    By adding khyber to it was well planned but we misunderstood this whole drama.
    Pashtuns are very welcoming and respected people.They never discriminate against minorites.
    The rise of hazarawal for a new province is in fact the plan of punjabi establishment and GHQ.
    This is to divide our land and show to the world that pashtuns are narrow minded and racist people.
    I wonder how some of our memebers and isi paid agent support more provinces for pashtuns?
    We are struggling for the unity of north,south and central pashtunkhwa into one province by dividing it to more pieces will make the punjabi establishment job easy.
    Now we are struggling for four areas to be united into one province. If their plan is successful then think about it.
    bolan-pashtunkhwa,swat-pashtunkhwa,kakaristan etc are their plans and we should not follow their footsteps.
    Our demand should be for one and only pakhtunkhwa from chetral to bolan.
    You can creat 10 provinces but they will not be able to get their rights from ,,tahti,,lahore.
    People here are making fool of pashtuns by saying pashtun will get majority in senate .They are working on their agenda.
    This is to kill pashtun unity forever.

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