By Kinza Arif
Historically clashes amidst Afghanistan and Pakistan have existed and in the light of Soviet Afghan war and the 9/11 incident there relations have not met a steady path. Since the inception of Pakistan, territorial conflict amidst Afghanistan and Pakistan occurred; where the former claimed that certain areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa should be under Afghanistan’s control (Durand Line issue). One can regard it as the first strained element of their relations. There relations remained constrained despite sharing commonalities of language and ethnicity.
The international scenario during the Soviet Afghan war created the need of unity amidst both entities. Where both actively joined hands to counter Soviet aggression along with the assistance of the west. In order to fulfill their economic and defensive needs which were developed during its birth compelled Pakistan to join with the western bloc. This alliance however, complicated and hindered our ties with USSR (now Russia) and the communist bloc itself. In context of India, this period has allowed them to strengthen their ties with Russia and the Central Asian countries and have fundamentally rooted positive perceptions about their state. The Iron Curtain period has generated negative views about Pakistan as a state; within the Central Asian countries the image projected about Pakistan did not create any positive results. However, their relations with Afghanistan constrained again during the period of 2001. After the 9/11 incident, the world viewed Afghanistan in an entirely different scope and eventually complicated the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The prime aspect which led to the generation of a negative image of Afghanistan was rooted in the factor that they provided sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden. Which ultimately also complicated their position regionally and internationally. As a response to 9/11 the international dynamics met with a 180 degree shift which also enforced Pakistan to change their policies towards Afghanistan. Once again, Pakistan joined the western bloc with an entirely new policy to fight against terrorism. The major policy shift adopted by Pakistan aided in generating a much more stable image of Pakistan, and played a major role to ensure global peace and stability. Afghanistan views Pakistan’s efforts in entirely different manner, this has also created loopholes which allows India to strengthen ties with Afghanistan.
In the contemporary era, the issue of terrorism has been a key concern of international community. Consequently, the issue of terrorism has remained central in regards to dealings amidst Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite sharing similar targets of ensuring peace and stability in the region and air of wariness prevails amidst them. Afghanistan has blamed Pakistan multiple times claiming that the have provided sanctuaries and assistances to terrorists which are threatening their sovereignty. During 2015, Afghanistan blamed Pakistan for a series of attacks conducted in Kabul which essentially increased frustrations within their society. President Ghani also stated that he does not want Pakistan to pursue negotiations with Taliban but completely eradicate their presence from their territory. They have also blamed Pakistan for the 2016 attacks on the government intelligence building and reiterated once again that Pakistan has been providing assistances to the terrorist groups which impedes their sovereignty. Thus, threads of mistrust have prevailed amidst them which negatively impact their relations. Eventually these perceptions have resulted in a generation of nexus amidst India and Afghanistan. They have largely focused upon maintaining stronger ties with India in the recent years. India has also claimed that attacks within Afghanistan over Indian embassies are funded by Pakistan and endanger the territorial integrity of the state. According to Pakistan’s perspective; India and Kabul have been providing assistance to insurgents in Baluchistan which actively are responsible for tampering with their internal security. Pakistan’s relation with Afghanistan remained strained during 2016, where Afghanistan also rejected a $500 million aid from Pakistan. This resultantly marks a major blow in their relations and also showcased a nexus which was present between India and Afghanistan, where they actively seek to isolate Pakistan regionally. India has opted for enhanced economic cooperation’s with Afghanistan, through which they have invested $300 million in Afghanistan to establish the Salma Dam which aims to boost agribusinesses. This project aims to develop 42 megawatts electricity to assist the agrarian sector. India, Afghanistan and Iran have also initiated Chabahar transit and trade agreement. After careful analyzation many analysts regard this initiative as a fundamental step which enables them to bypass Pakistan in regards to their bilateral relations with India. Subsequently since 2015, Afghan-India relations have intensified further and have also resulted in defense projects. On the other hand, India has also invested up to $90 million to establish Afghanistan’s new parliament complex in Kabul. The Chabahar Port development project can be seen as a counter to Gwadar port and the CPEC initiative amidst China and Pakistan. Where India actively attempts to strengthen their regional presence by establishing stronger ties with Iran and Afghanistan along with the Central Asian countries. US is also persistent in regards to maintaining their presence in the region to counter threats. Afghanistan’s accession to World Trade Organization in 2015, has also strengthened their internal dynamics where the levels of their exports have increased from $150 to $570 million since 2013. The security concerns have increased in the light of the non-state actors, however, the regional projects like; Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Natural Gas Pipeline (TAPI), Chabahar Port, Turkeministan-Pakistan-500 (TAP 500), Central Asia- South Asia-1000 (CASA 1000) at present are in progress.
Security implications have also increased due to the regional instabilities which prevail. In response to which Pakistan has actively engaged themselves in their own territory to eradicate any seeds of terrorism and work forward to promote peace and stability. Large chunk of Pakistan’s budget is utilized to counter security threats. The stability of each state of the region is essential to promote effective bilateral and multilateral ties. Thus, a stable Afghanistan ensures regional stability. Pakistan has actively attempted to ensure that their internal borders are secured, and working towards the elimination of terrorists groups. Operation of Zarb-e-Azb was proceeded to ensure that Pakistan’s internal security and defenses are strengthened and strong. Recently, protests outside Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul have occurred, where the latter once again, claims that Pakistan is responsible for the bombings in Kabul. Pakistan on the other hand, has maintained that these groups are operating within Afghanistan as they were forced to leave following the Zarb-e-Azb operation. US defense secretary-designate General James Mattis also passed a statement which focused upon how the terrorist groups are using Pakistan’s territory for creating instabilities within Afghanistan and sanctuaries of such groups are actively working together and have strong links with the militant networks. He has also emphasized the need to stay engaged with Pakistan to counter terrorist issues. Despite these allegations Pakistan has maintained that they are no safe havens present in Pakistan. The recent telephonic talks amidst Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff and President Ghani also focused upon improving the misperceptions, and marks the second phone call to the Afghan President in the last two weeks. During the talks, COAS condemned the recent attacks and mourned the losses of lives, and focused upon minimizing the blame game which is persisting amidst their relations. The Army Chief has also emphasized that there is a need of robust border management and intelligence cooperation to restrict the movement of terrorists. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief Major General Asif Ghafoor also stated that this blame game only restricts the cooperation amidst both states which as a result threatens the regional securities. There are no safe havens of terrorists in Pakistan. Pakistan has actively worked towards strengthening their internal securities through the operation of Zarb-e-Azb and in the past few years have actively fought terrorists to ensure it. Army Chief has maintained that strong ties of cooperation must be present in order to counter the terrorists. This gesture was received positively by Kabul; President Ghani thanked Gen Qamar for his sentiments and reiterated that cooperation amidst both states is essential to achieve peace and stability in the region.
These forms of interactions portray a positive step towards mending of relations. The issue of terrorism is a global phenomenon; both states have been drastically affected by this form of violence. Strong and affective ties need to persist, so that they can actively engage in the region to ensure peace and stability. Without cooperation amidst the states the counter towards terrorism becomes difficult and poses threats. Essentially, the blame game only hinders the progression of bilateral relations which results in development of regional tensions. One important aspect needs to be analyzed that certain allegations only disrupts and hinders the peaceful talk processes and further generates mistrust. However, one cannot ignore the regional and the global attributes which are generating animosity amidst them which eventually increases tensions. The need to have strong bilateral relations is essential to generate positive views about each other. One cannot eliminate the fact that Pakistan’s internal security has been largely affected by the wars conducted in region, despite that Pakistan has positively moved forward as an active agent to counter terrorist movements. Regional instabilities threaten Pakistan’s internal and external peace. The operation Zarb-e-Azb signifies the importance Pakistan places over the international and regional security, as well as, their internal securities. Providing a lens to showcase their commitments towards maintaining international peace and security.
Kinza Arif is an intern at Islamabad Institute of Conflict Resolution. She is getting BSS in International Relations from Bahria University.