Pakistan and Afghanistan

This random rant is brought to you courtesy of Tacitus:

Pakistan itself, meanwhile, is happily engaging in its national pasttime of effectively ignoring its extremists and conducting small-scale aggression against its neighbors. Is Islamabad an ally? I guess if Riyadh is, sure. And I deserved to get hit, because he works hard and I didn’t have dinner ready.

Ally? Who says Pakistan is an ally or friend! Doesn’t Tacitus remember the idea of states having interests and not friends? Was it Washington or Jefferson who said that? We have an interest in Pakistan helping us with Al-Qaeda and Taliban, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that other countries will act according to our will in this or other matters. They will look towards their national interest. They will do some of our bidding because let’s face it we are big and rich. The Pakistanis will do whatever they think is in their interest and that’s ok by me even if their interests don’t match with ours.

Also remember that the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is not properly marked. According to the Washington Post,

“This is a dotted-line border,” the ambassador said. “It has not really been demarcated. So what happens is that the soldiers, not knowing where the exact border would lie, they trespass into Afghanistan territory or Pakistan territory by 100 meters or 200 meters for a better location. These things happen.”

Some Western diplomats, however, accuse Pakistan of using the international battle against terrorism as cover to assert territorial claims over its impoverished neighbor by establishing military outposts.

Let us remember what was happening in the same border areas last year.

U.S. military authorities announced today that a brief shootout erupted between U.S. and Pakistani troops along the Afghan border Sunday, prompting the U.S. forces to call in an F-16 warplane that dropped a 500-pound bomb on the Pakistanis to end the clash.

[…]Reports from Pakistani officials in South Waziristan, the tribal administrative zone on the Pakistani side of the border, said at least two members of the Pakistani Border Scouts were killed in the bombing, which they said hit a Muslim religious school on the Pakistani side of the border in which some of the Border Scouts had taken refuge.

[…]Details of Sunday’s shooting and the subsequent bombing remained unclear —- including exactly where it happened. A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Steve Clutter, said the incident occurred in a “gray area” between Pakistan and Afghanistan along the Durand Line, which was defined in the 19th century by the British and is often disputed or ignored by both sides. A Pentagon official said, however, that the military believes both the shooting and the bombing took place inside Afghanistan.

Seems like we never can agree which side of the border things happen over there! The reason seems to be the Durand line. It is a mostly unmarked 2,430km (1,510 miles) long arid mountainous border which is named after Sir Mortimer Durand who basically forced Abdur Rahman Khan, amir of Afghanistan, to agree on the border in 1893. It basically divided the Pashtun tribal areas into half as a sort of buffer between Afghanistan and British India.

Afghanistan did not like the Durand line and was in fact the only state to vote against Pakistan’s admission to the UN in 1947 because of the border dispute. The original agreement was for 100 years and Pakistani efforts in 1996 to get the Taliban to agree on the Durand line as a permanent border were not fruitful.

And if you think that Pakistan is always meddling in Afghan affairs, here’s some news for you: It didn’t start that way. Afghanistan had a claim on the Pashtun areas of FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan from the beginning. There used to be this idea called Pashtunistan (or Pakhtunistan), an independent state for all the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nationalist Pashtuns and the Afghan government wanted the Pashtun-dominated areas of Pakistan to secede. Now no government likes that irrespective of the validity or otherwise of the claims of parties trying to secede. Afganistan’s government, especially under the Prime Ministership of Sardar Daud (who later overthrew his cousin King Zahir Shah in 1973), helped the Pakhtunistan cause quite diligently.

Prime Minister Daud Khan (1953—63) took a stronger line on Pashtunistan, and, to the surprise of many, turned to the Soviet Union for economic and military assistance.

The Pashtunistan issue precipitated Daud Khan’s downfall. In retaliation for Afghan agitation, Pakistan closed the border with Afghanistan in August 1961. Its prolonged closure led Afghanistan to depend increasingly on the Soviet Union for trade and in-transit facilities. To reverse the trend, Daud Khan resigned in March 1963, and the border was reopened in May.

Pakistani interference started after Sardar Daud overthrew King Zahir Shah in 1973 and increased quite a lot when Daud was overthrown by People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in 1978. The Soviets invaded in 1979 and the rest is history.

As I said, this is just a rant against the simplified view of history and international relations that conservatives generally have. I don’t have any clue why the Pakistani army is wandering in the border area since it has never really controlled the tribal areas of Pakistan. One guess is that they see this as a chance to assert army and federal authority over the fiercely independent tribes in FATA.

Also, I have long criticized the Pakistani army doctrine of “strategic depth” which calls for a friendly or client Afghan state to get some depth in a war with India. That is a crazy idea and can only lead to problems with Afghanistan.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

18 thoughts on “Pakistan and Afghanistan”

  1. we should not delude ourselves into thinking that other countries will act according to our will in this or other matters. They will look towards their national interest. They will do some of our bidding because let’s face it we are big and rich. The Pakistanis will do whatever they think is in their interest and that’s ok by me even if their interests don’t match with ours.

    This is a concept that a lot of people seem to have trouble with, hence the fury at France.

  2. Actually, Tacitus made a similar statement with respect to Turkey recently — how Turkey is not a friend of the USA.

    I pointed out in his comments the same thing you did. Countries don’t have friends, people have friends. Countries have interests.

    I can’t remember his response, but he must not have agreed with me.

    Anyway, Tacitus can defend himself quite well. I hope he responds.

  3. Ikram: In addition, I think most people forget that Afghan history did not start in 1979 with the Soviet invasion. It’s like nothing happened after the British invasions till the Soviets’.

  4. perhaps u were alluding to benjamin disraeli’s quote,
    “Nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.”

  5. ubaid: That rings a bell, but I was referring to one of the US founding fathers talking about US foreign policy. Can’t remember the exact quote though. Disraeli makes the same point.

  6. Excellent points; I think most people neglect the loose hold central govt’s have over peripheral regions such as the NWFP and its environs. From colonial times the hold over tribal societies here has been at crucial junctures quite weak. This is common for all the post-colonial successor states in South Asia, India faces similar problems in its northeastern region.

    I wonder to what extent, the relatively late formal incorporation of bordering regions with Pakistan, such as Nuristan by Abdur Rahman, plays in the inchoate nature of the Afghan-Pak border; once the regions around Peshawar and Kashmir had been lost by Afghan rulers, it created fiscal and resource problems for Kabul weakening its influence.

    I suppose the traditional weakness of the two-nation idea in the NWFP and non-ML political formations such as Abdar Gaffar Khan’s Redshirts et al add to nervousness about irredentist tendencies in the region.

  7. Conrad: Abdul Ghaffar Khan and some other Pathan (and later some Baloch) leaders were involved in the Pakhtoonistan movement till the 1970s. Afghanistan supported them especially until 1963.

  8. I am curious, how seriously was the Pakhtoonistan movement taken in Islamabad was it seen as a major threat?

    I know some hardliners in India, bemoaned the fact that, New Delhi didn’t do more to stir up trouble as a retaliatory measure for Kashmir (a stupid idea if there ever was one).

  9. Conrad: There was a time when Pakhtunistan movement was strong and Islamabad was afraid. You also have to remember that Pakistan has never really been a federal state in practice.

    I’ll if I can dig up some info on this topic to post something tangible.

  10. A few years ago, under the Taliban, the Mohmand Agency (currently in Pakistan) hoisted the previous Taliban Afghanistan flag over the tribal territory, which infuriated Islamabad.

    Furthermore, the ransacking of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul, and the continuing border skirmishes show that this issue has not died. US, Kabul, and Islamabad are now in discussions on finally settling the border dispute, with each side taking out their maps.

    So far nothing has been settled, and I personally doubt it ever will be until the Pashtuns are united.

  11. Wahid: But the uniting of the Pashtuns is not an easy job. It means Pakistan has to give up territory and become narrower (where would the strategic depth doctrine go?). FATA might be difficult enough but no one is going to allow the Pashtun areas in Baluchistan to join up with Afghanistan. On the Afghanistan side, doubling of the Pashtun population (if all Pashtuns in Pakistan join them) would change the balance of power of the different ethnic groups completely. Afghanistan would then be more than 60% Pashtun. How would the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara react to that?

  12. No one said that it will be easy to unite, but that is eventually what will happen. If you look at Afghanistan’s troubled past you can see that borders regularly change. Meanwhile, the people within those borders rarely change.

    If the Karzai administration succeeds in restoring peace, education and nationalism will fuel many heated debates to unite the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Pakistan plays it’s cards right and Afghanistan remains prosperous, it will only help fuel the brotherly ties between them. Eventually allowing them to share the same global perspective and who knows, maybe even uniting indirectly.


    If the US/Coalition troops fail to bring peace and stability, the Pashtuns will feel even more alienated from the Kabul gov’t. Since the Pashtuns would feel misrepresented in the previous government, a sense of Pashtun nationalism may arise. This ofcourse would lead into civil war, which would again effect the US, Pakistan, Russia, and Iran.

    Eventually proxy militias supported by different countries will spring up again and they will all carve a piece of the countryside for themselves.

    The bloodshed will continue until another revolution occurs, or the country completely splits up, different parts going to the different countries. Other countries may justify their invasion as to protect the stability of their own countries. The Pashtuns may eventually join their brothers in the east.

    The other wildcard is Pakistan itself. If Afghanistan remains unstable, so will Pakistan. If Pakistan breaks apart, then the chance of a united Pashtunistan increases greatly.

    Therefore, if the Karzai administration fails, the Pashtuns will eventually unite, or even if it succeeds they may unite anyways. Unification for Pashtuns is inevitable.

  13. The Great Game

    Conrad Barwa has an insightful post at the Head Heeb on the structural and strategic elements in Pakistan’s policy towards the tribal areas and Afghanistan. Here is his conclusion: What does seem clear is that the production of any ‘HVTs&#8…

  14. bois let me tell ya wat first of all there is big diference between afghanistan and pakistand dont even think about mixing da pakist with afghanz . . afghanistan is five thousand yrz old and have a big history cultural and everything and good in everything like in islam,cultural,friendship na one is like afghanistan and there gona be na one. . so came back to pakistan. . pakistan is only 50 yrs old pakis 50 yrs old there were indianz so dont mix da pakis with afghanz why we have problemz between pakis and afghanistan becuse of durand line which is half of pakist is part of afghanistan and it got expired in 1993 and pakis should give back and after rusianz invadedd in afghanistan afghanistn become abit week and it was geting week and when talibz came it becomez more weeker becuse talibz start kiling inocent taking small advantagez of kiling people in da name of islam and they brought da islam in bloodshed so da people who knoz nothing about talibz they can say very easily that talibz were good people good in muslim da reality was they were one of da dumbest people not all of them but alot of them becuse they were uneducated they can read da quran but they dnt know wat its saying da can read only arabik and like example alot of of them they heard da name of iraq but they dnt know in da map were is it iraq da so talibz were like mostly like animalz dats da reality i’m mean like they dont have no mannerz in talking da way they siting they also made da afganz name bad too i live in australia alot of australianz they look at me as a terorist why becuse of them bfore it wasnt like that every one was respecting ma coutnry aafghanistan and afghan people becuse bfore talibz country waas kool we had beautiful country ma country like paradis but talibz they start kiling our people i’m mean who da fuk they r but they wre pakis becuse pakis duznt wana that afghanistn live in peace becuse if afghans live in peace then afghan take his land back becuse its our mother land but pakis start sending pakis pakhtunz and their own soldierz and they start thinking of taking afghanistan they cant make any shit to there country and they dreaming of taking afghanistan we gaved them land we thought they would be our muslimz brotherz we suport them in da past wat pakis did to us brought dead in afghanistan but soon inshallah pakis will see whats gona hapen to them like they seeeing now its geting civil war slowly in pakistan too (what u going to do with someone bad and ui’ll see bad)and let me tell u . . u dumb fuken paki pakhtunz u think u living in pakistan in peace which its not . . u pashtonz r dumb but u thinking u wwere smart ass whioch is not this pakis panjabiz they send their sonz daughterz to earupeans countries for educate they making busines in their area and they make da terrorist camp in pashtonz land becuse this panjabis knoz how to rule u pahstonz they send ur sonz to fight they neva let da pashtonz to sit and havea good life but they mke their own life like paradise they neva make any good skoolz for pashtonz but they make in panjabz places for sure bois its not just to escap dnt think to hid somthing bfore in ma country everyone was living in peace and now everyone hate eachother and alot of people hate pashtonz and alot of afghanz belive that pashtonz r uneducated and stupid khar and dumb poeple and were there is good pashtonz there were not in afghanistan and they also duznt wants to involve their self with uneeducated and thos people who duznt listen so think of it and there is big diferent like earth and sky between pakis and afghanistan so fuk pakis long live afghanistna and thier people . . pakis 2 piece fuken panjabis da most enemy of afghanistan and pashtonz … dont use ur power ur ur brain thats how u gona win …

  15. fake map, it was created by ISI and Pakistan to make fight between baluchis and pashtoons…. there is no such thing as pakistan if there is something its punjab and who is behinde all these games who make nations fight over stupid things.. baluch and pashtoon have no war or despute over land they have lived for 1000 and 1000 of years in peace!

  16. I absolutely agree with Zack that the unification of Pashtuns is inevitable. In fact i think it is essential for peace in the region.

  17. @Zack
    For your information Pashtuns in Afghanistan are around 60% (it was 72% in Daud Khan reign, can’t decrease more than 10 percent), we should not be fooled with the wrong projection of western and Iranian Media. Once Pakistani Pashtuns join us we will be even more then80-85 percent(Pashtun population of Pakistan is equal to the whole population of Afghanistan including every ethnic group).

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