Published on November 25th, 2014 |
by Oscar Saunders
Pakistan’s troubled role in Afghanistan
As American led coalition forces withdraw Pakistan’s relationship to Afghanistan will prove increasingly crucial for securing the future stability of Afghanistan, however, Pakistan’s problematic past involvement in Afghanistan may threaten the success of its future attempts at cooperation.
Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan has frequently been strained. A recurring point of contention between the nations lies in their shared border, the Durand line, a product of British imperial policy that divides ethnic Pashtun on both sides of the border. Following Pakistan’s succession from India in 1947 Afghanistan attempted to extend its influence across the Durand line in a bid to assert claims to provinces historically considered part of Afghanistan. Afghanistan refused, and still refuses, to officially recognise the Durand line as Pashtuns on the Pakistani side of the border were denied a referendum to join Afghanistan in 1947. This led in the 1970s to Afghanistan’s President Daud’s support of the concept of Pashtunistan a state for the Pashtun people, and the funding of secessionist movements in Pakistan.
By 1973 Pakistan responded to Afghan overtures by funding anti-Daud forces in Afghanistan through the manoeuvring of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. With the advent of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in 1979 Pakistan began to support a range of opposition movements in Afghanistan to counter potential Soviet and Indian influence, and install a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul. Pashtuns in Pakistan were encouraged to aid Afghan opposition fighters and military aid coming from the US, Britain, China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, was via the ISI, distributed to predominately Pashtun opposition fighters deemed supportive of Pakistan’s interests.
In the 1980s Pakistan funded a range religious organisations with hard-line sectarian and jihadist agendas which had the effect of further factionalising opposition fighters to Najibullah’s Soviet backed regime in Afghanistan. With the fall of Najibullah’s regime on April 27th 1992 conflict between various Afghan opposition groups intensified through Pakistan’s support of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami, party. Hekmatyar was the sole major leader of an opposition force to oppose the Peshawar Accords, an attempt to form an inclusive interim government for the nascent Islamic state of Afghanistan. Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i Islami had developed a reputation for attacking other resistance forces throughout the anti-Soviet war and aimed for a total seizure of power following the downfall of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
Following the collapse of negotiations and using Pakistan supplied armaments and troops Hekmatyar indiscriminately shelled Kabul resulting in the devastation of the city and thousands of civilian deaths in 1992. While civil war waged and new alliances were struck Hekmatyar ultimately proved unable to assert hegemony over Afghanistan and Pakistan began its support for a new force, the Taliban movement.
Pakistan’s relationship with the Afghanistan Taliban movement began with ISI’s support for Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual founder, who received assistance with financing, and propagandising the movement inside Pakistan in 1994. With the Taliban’s military success against rival militant groups and theanti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Pakistan further expanded its support. Pakistani security analysts estimate that between 1994 and 1999, an estimated 80,000-100,000 Pakistanis trained and fought in Afghanistan in support of the Taliban. Pakistan attempted to legitimise the Taliban’s success in the international community and was one of only three nations (including Qatar and Saudi Arabia) to recognise them as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
With the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 Pakistan sought to reposition itself as a valuable US ally in the war on terror while maintaining links with the Afghan Taliban as potentially useful foreign policy assets. This led to a complicated relationship with the Taliban movement, which following the US invasion, expanded, fragmented, and diversified militant groups operating within Pakistan itself. In November 2001, the Pakistan military aided Taliban forces retreat from the US with airlifts to places of refuge within Pakistan nicknamed “The Airlift of Evil” by the American media. While operating in Pakistan Taliban groups destabilised Pakistan’s border regions sufficiently to facilitate the expansion of numerous other militant groups in the area contributing to the flourishing of Pakistan’s own Taliban movement. Wikileak reports suggest as Pakistan fought to assert control over its border regions in bloody counter-insurgency campaigns in the mid-2000s it concurrently funded and coordinated with select pro-Pakistan Taliban networks to carry out attacks in Afghanistan and further Pakistan’s agenda to counter the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance’s developing ties with India.
By the late 2000’s however Pakistan increasingly recognised that the internal security threat of various Afghan militant groups within its borders and the external threat of an increasingly belligerent America significantly outweighed the potential foreign policy influence it could gain from its continued support of the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has arrived at a strained relationship with the Afghan Taliban as it fears launching major offensives against the group lest it should force the group into colluding with the hostile Pakistani Taliban umbrella group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In recent years Pakistan has sought a détente with Afghanistan and seeks to win Afghanistan over as a friendly, or at least stable, trade and security partner as the precarious security of both nation’s becomes more apparent.
Newly elected Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad on the 15th of November heralds a significant move away from the distrust and hostility that defined Hamid Karzai’s 10 year presidency. As recently as July 2014 Karzai suggested that Pakistan’s offensive in its militant dominated Waziristan region was cynically selective in the militants it targeted, leaving the Afghan Taliban intact, while Major General Asim Bajwa, Pakistan’s army spokesman accused Afghanistan of providing safe havens for the Pakistan TTP.
As both nation’s face insurgency, internal and international terrorism, organised crime and political corruption in the context of economic poverty a need for economic, political and military cooperation is painfully evident. However, it still remains uncertain whether Afghanistan and Pakistan’s rapprochement will be lasting and genuine or whether the nations’ long history of distrust, proxy war and unaccountability will resurface to destabilise and prolong conflict in the region.
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