By Shehnaz Yousaf
Since independence, Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors have gone through several ups and downs due to several reasons. Most importantly Afghanistan is one of the countries with whom Pakistan’s relations have remained estranged for a very long time period. Some of the most unrealistic reasons behind these estrangements are Afghanistan’s claim over NWFP and the immunity of a faction of Taliban inside Pakistan, which have been the primary resources of instability in both Afghanistan and Western borders of Pakistan, which penetrated later into the whole country. This has not only turned the region into the safe heaven for terrorists and fundamentalists but it also possess threats to global peace and security.
Since the soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan remained promoting its Afghan policy along with its western and Arab allies. After the end of the cold war Pakistan continued its forward policy in Afghanistan through supporting Mujahidin groups and Taliban later. Still the primary security interest of Pakistan was to promote relations with Afghanistan. It is believed that it will also provide a strategic depth policy against the possible threats from India.
Afghanistan has great importance in the foreign policy of Pakistan: i.e. strategical, religious, geo-political, economic, cultural, ideological and social. Strategically and geopolitically because Afghanistan location at the cross roads of the south and central Asia is always been significant. Culturally and socially because since its independence Pakistan has inherited a shared ideology. Both states are Islamic states and hence they are equally important for each other on religious grounds. Moreover, the historical and cultural similarities of a huge population of both states particularly Pakhtoons.
Creation of Pakistan on religious basis instead of historical and geographical has created critical situations and instability across the country. Similarly, the antagonistic relationship with much stable and powerful India has increased Pakistan’s insecurity.
From the birth of Pakistan, it faced difficult situations on both eastern and western borders i.e. Kashmir issue with India and the Durand line dispute with Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the only Muslim country who refused to recognize Pakistan on its birth. That is how, estrangements initiated between both countries. As we notice that Pakistan was sandwiched between two hostile states and hence facing the hostile geostrategic environment on both its borders Pakistan opted for the Afghan policy, however, Afghanistan did not view the situation in same way instead it formulated its own agendas.
Durand line was signed as a permanent border in 1893 during British government. However, after Pakistan’s independence Afghanistan refused to recognize Durand as permanent border and claim that all the Pakhtoon population to be the legitimate part of Afghanistan? Moreover, Pakistan claim that as Pakhtoons voted for the referendum of Pakistan should be the legitimate part of Pakistan. However, the opposition on the both sides remained constant. Still the foreign policy of Pakistan towards Afghanistan remained reactionary. Pakistan did not wanted any more clashes on its western border as well.
Suddenly, a major change took place when soviet invaded on Afghanistan 1979. The presence of soviet army in Afghanistan scared Pakistan. They proclaim that communism would expand to the disputed territories and then will penetrate across the country. Later the displacement of mass population of refugee’s displacement towards Pakistan threatened the economy and political instability in the country.
Pakistan’s reaction towards the expansion of communism became vulnerable and the historically rough relations forced both Bhutto and Zia to plan their own Afghan policy. Although the decision of conducting proxy war in Afghanistan was very irrational at the beginning. But later it come up with its own significances. Firstly Pakistan was able to neutralize the threat of expansion of communism and confront an ideologically hostile super power and secondly the soviet invasion created a new interest for US towards Pakistan.
Other than that, apart from supporting Afghan Mujahidin Pakistan used the opportunity to strengthen its armed forces and nuclear program. And, even after the withdrawal of Soviet army, Pakistan remained dominant in Afghanistan’s political arena.
The dominance of Pakistan in Kabul appeared confusing and unrealistic after Soviet withdrawal. The continuous interference in the politics of Kabul by external actors, mainly Pakistan, left Afghanistan with an unstable political system and caused destruction of the country’s infrastructure. The most salient factors of the decline of Afghanistan was the insufficient role of international community and United States in supporting the creation of a new stable government. Later the birth of many Mujahidin groups fueled the situation and broke the civil war.
Pakistan’s basic interests of Pakistan policy in Afghanistan is to continue forward its Afghan policy. It is perceived that Taliban government in Afghanistan would provide strategic depth to Pakistan against India. Moreover, friendly relations will let Pakistan to have easily access to the Central Asian states. It will also provide them with safe routes from Central Asian states to Gulf States. Lastly the Taliban government may negotiate to resolve the border disputes among the states.
In conclusion, it is important that Pakistan should bring changes in its foreign policy towards Afghanistan in the upcoming years so that there could be least interruption in the domestic policies of Afghan. Thus, it would provide its citizens a stable government. In fact, some of the statements like former Pakistan’s army chief Raheel sharif while talking to media in December 2016 said that Afghanistan is a sovereign state and has right to formulate its own foreign policy, either that is Pakistan or India. This implies that Pakistan will resist any more interference in promoting its Afghan policy and will make friendly economic ties.
The contributor is a student of Defense and Diplomatic Studies at the Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi.