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Afghanistan and Pakistan Relations

Afghanistan shares borders with six countries, but the approximate 1500-mile-long Durand Line along Pakistan remains the most dangerous. Kabul has never recognized the line as an international border, instead claiming the Pashtun territories in Pakistan that comprise the Federally Administered Tribal Lands (FATA) and parts of North West Frontier Province along the border. Incidents of violence have increased on both sides the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the last year. Various reports in late 2007 showed militants gaining ground inside Pakistan and their influence has now spread to areas beyond te FATA. Similarly, in Afghanistan, violence has peaked since the ouster of the Taliban six ,ears ago with a worrisome increase in suicide attacks.

Afghanistan's Historical Conflict

The region that is today known as Afghanistan was long torn by ethnic and tribal rivalries. It started evolving as a modern state in the early nineteenth century when the British East India Company began expanding in the northwest of British-held India. This was as the time of the great game—the geopolitical struggle between the British and the Russian empires. The British held the Indian subcontinent while the Russians held the Central Asian lands to the north. Their spheres of influence overlapped in Afghanistan. Britain, concerned about Russian expansion, invaded Afghanistan in 1839 and fought the First Anglo-Afghan War. This led to a decade of machinations between the British and the Russians and two more bloody wars, at the end of which in 1919, Afghanistan won its independence.

Durand Line

The Durand Line is named after foreign secretary of the colonial government of India, Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, who demarcated the frontier between British India and Afghanistan in 1893. The line was drawn after negotiations between the British government and Afghan King Abdur Rahman Khan, founder of modern Afghanistan. This line brought the tribal lands (now a part of Pakistan) under British control. Barnett R. Rubin, director of studies at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, writes in Foreign Affairs that the British established a three-tiered border to separate their empire from Russia. The first frontier separated the areas of the Indian subcontinent under direct British administration from those areas under Pashtun control (today this line divides those areas administered by the Pakistani state from the FATA). The second frontier, the Durand Line, divided the Pashtun tribal areas from the territories under Afghanistan’s administration. This now forms the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The outer frontier, Afghanistan’s border with Russia, Iran, and China, demarcated the British sphere of influence.


The Pakistan side of the Durand Line border includes the provinces of Balochistan, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and the seven tribal agencies of the FATA. On the Afghan side, the frontier stretches from Nuristan province in the northeast to Nimruz in the southwest. The British devised a special legal structure called the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) to rule the tribal lands and this continues to be the legal regime in the FATA today.

Tribal Connections

The ongoing border frictions are due in large part to tribal allegiances that have never recognized the century-old frontier. Forty percent of Afghanistan’s population is made up of Pashtuns; in Pakistan, Pashtuns represent 15 percent to 20 percent of the country’s population. Ethnic Balochis also live on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border as well as in neighboring Iran. “People on both sides of the Durand line consider it a soft border. Pashtuns consider it their own land even though there is also a loyalty to the respective states along with a desire to freely move back and forth.

Neighbors’ Interference

The long history of each state offering sanctuary to the other’s opponents has built bitterness and mistrust between the two neighbors. Afghanistan sheltered Baloch nationalists in the 1970s while Pakistan extended refuge and training to the mujahadeen in the 1980s and then later supported the Afghani Taliban. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, US and Pakistan’s then military ruler Zia uI-Haq promoted the jihad in Afghanistan, funded thousands of Islamic madrassas, armed domestic Islamist organizations, and in the process “militarized and radicalized the border region.

For Pakistan, a stormy history

For half a century, Pakistan had a kind of “estranged family” relationship with Afghanistan. The same Pashlun clans lived on both sides of the border, and Pashtun nationalism often expressed itself as a demand for “Pashtunistan” separate from Pakistan. Afghanistan never recognized the border with Pakistan, the Durand Line and pre -1979 Afghan governments encouraged Baluch separatists in Pakistan. India’s place as Pakistan’s major strategic threat made its long-standing friendship with Afghanistan a:pear in a particularly sinister light. The end of the Soviet invasion brought the hope of turning this hostility into a strategic asset. This was a major factor in the support Pakistan gave to the Taliban government.

The attacks of September 11 led to a reversal of Pakistan’s Afghan policy, but the fall of the Taliban still looked too many in Pakistan like a strategic disaster. The Northern Alliancc, which formed the core of the new Afghan government, had been close to the Indians and hostile to Pakistan’s Taliban contacts. The Pervez Musharraf and Hamid Karzai governments tried to put relations on a better footing, but geopolitics, history, and eventually ne two leaders’ personal dislike for each other undermined this goal. Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan soured further with the intensification of the Taliban insurgency. while Pakistan charges Afghanistan’s government with turning a blind eye to the arms and drug trade, Afghanistan charges that the Taliban operates out of safe havens in Pakistan.

India’s engagement in Afghanistan has come a long way since the closure of its embassy in Kabul in September 1996 to the August 2005 visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Kabul, the first in 29 years. Indian secret agency RAW is working against Pakistan through Afghanistan. It was the RAW which is behind the many suicide attacks in Pakistan. Afghan government is facilitating Indian secret agencies On its ground for destabilizing the Pakistan.

Economic rivalry

Both India and Pakistan have economic stakes in Afghanistan. One of the fallouts of Afghanistan’s reconstruction and foreign aid has been rampant inflation compounded by the replacement of food crops by poppy cultivation. This has probably made it easier for Pakistan to sustain the elimination of its own narcotics production. But it has also raised wheat prices to twice the level prevailing in Pakistan, prompting large-scale smuggling of food and essential commodities into Afghanistan and contributing to nationwide shortages of wheat flour in Pakistan. Estimates of the annual volume of gray market trading run as high as 10 billion Dollar — five times the official volume of trade between the two countries. A strong parallel economy run by Afghan Pashtuns has also emerged in Baluchistan. This is adding to disenchantment about Afghanistan among the Pakistani public. India would like to expand its trade with Afghanistan, but Pakistan continues to block the overland transit of Indian goods through its territory.

For both countries, Afghanistan is a potential route for access to Central Asian energy. A pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India could benefit both countries, but instability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as supply issues in Turkmenistan have put this idea on ice. Given China’s growing investment in Central Asian energy, India will be looking for other ways to secure access to these energy supplies. Meanwhile, India is building a port in Chabahar in Iran, which among other things, could connect to the Iranian hinterland and thereby transport Indian goods to Afghanistan, bypassing P3kistan completely. Pakistan sees Chabahar as a rival that could drain business away from Pakistan’s new port at Gwadar being built with Chinese assistance. If stability is restored to Afghanistan, it may become possible to take advantage of other mineral resources there, which would benefit not only Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan but also other countries. China recently won rights to mine the world’s largest undeveloped copper field, located near Kabul, for about $3 billion. If implemented, this would be the biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan’s history. In addition, China promised the Afghans a power plant and a railroad running from Tajikistan into Pakistan. Under present circumstances, however, this type of major project seems a long way off.

The security equation

The difficult relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have made a Pakistani role with the Afghan security services impossible. India has offered security assistance and has provided some training for the Afghan national army. Given Pakistan’s resistance, the United States had turned down India’s offers to send troops to Afghanistan. However, after the murder of an Indian engineer by the Taliban in 2006, India sent in a company of paramilitary troops to protect the engineers working on the road construction projects. This placement of Indian troops close to its western frontier troubles Pakistan.

The Taliban connection

The greatest controversy centers on the role of Pakistan in facilitating the Taliban insurgency that has steadily expanded in Afghanistan over the past two years. Pakistani officials strongly deny any continuing involvement with the Taliban, pointing out that the movement’s Pakistani counterparts have been mounting a devastating series of suicide bombings against Pakistan government targets. Pakistan has ever contributed to the creation of an intelligence establishment in Kabul to monitor its border areas with Afghanistan along with the Afghans and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Porous Borders

Both the Pashtuns and Balochis gain much of their income from cross-border smuggling, says the USIP paper. Thanks to the largely porous border and people from similar ethnic groups straddling both its sides, ‘the borderlands already have become a land bridge for the criminal (drugs) and criminalized (transit trade) economies of the region.” The trans border political and military networks between the two countries are reinforced as well as funded and armed by criminal activities such as trafficking in drugs, arms, and even people.

The long history of each state offering sanctuary to the other’s opponents has built bitterness and mistrust. Afghanistan is the world’s largest cultivator and supplier of opium (93 percent of the global opiates market). According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, opium cultivation in the country is no longer associated with poverty. In fact, quite the opposite. The report says opium is now closely linked to the insurgency and the Taliban are again using it to get resources for arms, logistics and militia pay,” despite a foreign military presence.

The War on Terror

After 9/11, Pakistan allied itself with the United States in its war on terror. This created a dilemma for Pakistan, as it now had to hunt down the Taliban and the Islamic militant organizations it reportedly helped create in the first place. It also had to send its troops into the tribal lands where the Pakistani military has never been welcome. Incidents of Pakistani soldiers surrendering without a fight to militant organizations became common during 2007. Before 9/11, especially during the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and U.S. policies in the border region converged; a friendly government in Afghanistan gave Islamabad strategic depth against India as well as a land bridge across Central Asia, and an open border ensured easy access to Kabul. This fit well into Washington’s strategic objective, which looked to Pakistan as a vantage ground to prevent Soviet hegemony in the region. But post-9/1 1, the United States wants greater controls on the border. Pakistan’s national interest now conflicts with its foreign policy and the most powerful state institution, the Pakistani military, is caught in the middle.

Experts say that while the Pakistani army d like to continue its support of some of these militant groups to counter what it ceives as the security threat from India and its continued claim to Kashmir, it now has to appease the United States for strategic, military, and foreign aid. Extremism has been rising r Pakistan’s border areas and they continue to provide sanctuary to militants who spread insurgency in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army has shown it is not sufficiently equipped to fight insurgency in these areas. The Pakistani army cannot entirely control or close the border with Afghanistan. Islamabad and the FATA regions have long followed a policy of ‘live and let live,” with minimal interference in one another’s affairs, but the United States would like to see this changed.

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