Afghanistan: Wheel turns full circle

Lt Col M Usman (Retd)

IN Pakistan, events of greater proportions follow in quick succession. Momentarily or otherwise, preceding event pales in comparison to succeeding one in magnitude, gravity and character. Inevitably, make shift fire fighting brigade, led by Army moves in to soothe the situation because civilian leadership is nearly dysfunctional with no urge to rise and resume the long abandoned responsibility. Before it does any meaningful work there, it receives another emergency call of more pressing claim from elsewhere. Similarly the incident of firing at Torkhum by Afghan Forces has been dealt with.
It appears that it is no more in close focus because of following frightening and pressing events like abduction of son of Chief Justice Sind High Court, cold blooded murder of Amjid Sabri, high profile visit of Senator John McCain along with other US Senators to Pakistan with stick and carrot and continuing political strife. To the contrary, it warrants far more deep attention because potentially it contains within itself seeds of same hostility and confrontation between Pakistan and Afghanistan which existed prior to Russian tanks rolled into Kabul in Dec 1979. The situation could even be worse and exacting this time when seen in the backdrop that Afghanistan is now far bigger hot bed of international intrigue than before with diverse pulls.
Afghanistan is an Islamic neighbourly country which largely shares historical, cultural, ethnic and kinship ties with Pakistan but hope of friendly relationship between the two dashed to the ground from the beginning when on the eve of emergence of Pakistan, Afghan government unilaterally denounced the treaty, concluded between Afghan Amir Abdurrah man and a British official Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893, establishing Durand Line as the boundary between Afghanistan and British India. Afghan action eventually became the bone of contention between two. Much to our dismay, Afghanistan was only country in the world which voted against Pakistan’s admission to UN. It also pursued irredenta against Pakistan in guise of support to demand of Pushtoonistan, launched by Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan and his handful faithfuls. It was fundamentally a territorial claim because it required Pushtoonistan to be carved out of Pakistan.
Afghanistan did not hesitate to join hands with India and former Soviet Union to destabilize frontier region of Pakistan and Balochistan. The intelligence agencies of these three also lent support to al Zulfiqar to launch its anti state activities inside Pakistan. In short, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan were a tale of hate and perpetual hostility in decades that followed however, as every cloud has a silver lining, this relationship also had some positives. The tension between the both was kept under control. The Afghan government did not exploit vulnerability of Pakistan during 1965 and1971 wars with India rather conveyed, Pakistan could rest assured that nothing unusual would happen on its western borders.
Presumably it was not a result of benevolence or kinder intentions rather a fear of backlash of own population which had ethnic, economic and kinship ties with people of Pakistan, living on other side of border. It was people to people contact which cracked sense in its head to desist fishing in troubled water. In the contest of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, it is imperative to ensure effective border management to prevent entry of terrorists into Pakistan. Driven by this consideration and its related functional aspects, Pakistan decided to construct a gate at border check post at Torkhum. Upon its construction, Afghan Security Forces resorted to firing of even heavy calibre which continued for about one week, claiming a number of causalities. Firstly it was unprovoked and unwarranted and secondly a serious occurrence since Russian invasion of Afghanistan. It has brought to fore deep-seated issue of Durand Line which was kept at shelf but never allowed to die or be resolved by the Afghan successive governments.
This could be ascertained from the fact that a friendly Taliban government refused to endorse Durand Line despite Pakistan’s insistence, arguing there shall be no borders among the Muslims. Former Afghan President Ahmed Karzai also sung similar tune “a line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers”. The instant firing incident could easily be taken a grim expression of Afghan governments’ age old aversion to Durand Line. Clearly Pakistan has a problem near at hand. It also signals the death of concept of strategic depth. It looks that they have also hired new stuntman; Mehmood Khan Achkazai in place of Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan who in line of his assigned role, has said bluntly that KP belongs to Afghans. New anti Pakistan nexus of India, Iran and Afghanistan is in place in the shape of a tripartite agreement between them to turn Iranian port of Chabahar into a transit hub bypassing Pakistan to Indian Ocean.
India is our arch rival which does not spare any exertion and occasion to cut Pakistan to size. To many, Iran is a Pakistan’s tactical foe which may not hesitate to cash in a fleeting opportunity and Afghan government of Asraf Ghani is fast assuming the role of a Pakistan- baiter.The deficiency if any could be made up by our friend US whose friendship blossoms and dies like desert flowers depending upon its interests. To cap it all, in Afghanistan wheel has turned full circle and we need to findthe silver lining. More arguably, it again lies in contact with Afghan people for whom Pakistan has suffered far grievously ungrudgingly in the time of their ordeal. Pakistan has been their gracious host over a long haul which is still continuing. Governments may have their compulsions and preferences but instincts of people are different. They believe on reciprocity. As whole they are not ungrateful. On good reason, it could be inferred that fellow feelings between Afghan and Pakistani people are now more stronger. It is a substantive plus and needs to be capitalized.
Ironically in face of ensuing pressure after death of Mullah Akther Mansoor in a US drone attack in Baloochistan, Pakistan started calling Afghan refugees root of all ills on its western border and finding panacea in their immediate return to their homeland. A haphazard and high handed approach may be counterproductive. It can undermine bond of solidarity with Afghan people, established at colossal cost and pain. Afghan refugees need to be returned with honor. Besides, as Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan since almost four decades. most of them are fully socialized and earn their livelihood at their own with no badge of refugee. Many countries in world give their nationality toforeign people who stay and work for longer period in their countries. Possibility of similar proposition to Afghan refugees may be worth the consideration. This will definitely strengthen bond of solidarity/varied links with Afghan people manifold. In return, its potency is likely to persuade any incumbent Afghan government to not indulge itself in any extravagant adventurism against Pakistan. Earlier an apprehension existed that aforesaid territorial claim against Pakistan may recoil on Afghanistan. With enhanced bondage, its possibility may be even greater.
— The writer is a freelance columnist.
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