Friends Never

The story of Afghanistan-Pak­istan re­la­tions is a saga of per­pet­ual con­fronta­tion with­out any ap­par­ent cause.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer editor of Southasia.

When Ashraf Ghani re­placed Ah­mad Karzai as Afghanistan’s pres­i­dent, it was hoped that it would mark the turn­ing of a new leaf in Af-Pak re­la­tions. Karzai had been openly hos­tile to Pak­istan. Ghani ex­tended an olive branch. He vis­ited Is­lam­abad at the first op­por­tu­nity. There was a new at­mos­phere of ca­ma­raderie gen­er­ated by the vis­its of Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif and the Pak­istan Army Chief, Gen. Ra­heel Sharif to Kabul and re­ports of vows of mu­tual co­op­er­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to ex-diplo­mat Mu­nir Akram, “Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani and Pak­istan’s prime min­is­ter and army chief were sin­cere in de­sir­ing nor­mal­iza­tion. The im­plicit bar­gain was that Pak­istan would de­liver the Afghan Tal­iban to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble while Afghanistan would act against TTP lead­ers and mil­i­tants hid­ing in Afghan ter­ri­tory.”

But that was sheer wish­ful think­ing, for, never has Afghanistan de­liv­ered any tribal who sought sanc­tu­ary there. This is a hal­lowed tra­di­tion since Bri­tish In­dia.

Mean­while, Af-Pak re­la­tions once again suf­fered a nose­dive fol­low­ing a Tal­iban at­tack that killed 56 peo­ple in Kabul. Ghani tele­phoned Nawaz to com­plain. The lat­ter sug­gested a high­level meet­ing.

Ghani also called a news con­fer­ence where he ful­mi­nated against Pak­istan, say­ing, “The last few days have shown

that sui­cide bomber train­ing camps and bomb-pro­duc­ing fac­to­ries which are killing our peo­ple are as ac­tive as be­fore in Pak­istan, We hoped for peace but we are re­ceiv­ing mes­sages of war from Pak­istan.

“In my tele­phone call with Pak­istan prime min­is­ter,” Ghani went on, “I told Pak­istan to see ter­ror­ism in Afghanistan the same way it sees ter­ror­ism in Pak­istan. I ask the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment if the mass killings of Shah Sha­heed had hap­pened in Is­lam­abad and the per­pe­tra­tors were in Afghanistan, what would you do?”

In its im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion, the tone of the Pak­istan For­eign Of­fice was con­cil­ia­tory. "The peo­ple and the Gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan can feel the pain and an­guish of the broth­erly peo­ple and the Gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan over the re­cent wave of ter­ror­ist at­tacks, which have re­sulted in the loss of many valu­able lives and in­jured scores of peo­ple," the spokesman told news­men. "Ter­ror­ism is our com­mon en­emy and a co­op­er­a­tive ap­proach is needed to com­bat this men­ace."

But later the at­ti­tude hard­ened. Is­lam­abad gave a “cold shoul­der” to the high-level Afghan del­e­ga­tion led by For­eign Min­is­ter Salahud­din Rab­bani and in­clud­ing Afghan in­tel­li­gence chief Rahmatullah Na­bil, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Hanif At­mar and act­ing De­fence Min­is­ter Ma­soom Stanekzai and lec­tured the visi­tors to mend fences with the Tal­iban.

The del­e­ga­tion met the prime min­ster but was not re­ceived by the army chief. The Pak­istan For­eign Of­fice state­ment is­sued af­ter the meet­ing con­tained the usual blah-blah about “close con­tact to pro­mote bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion, ad­dress all is­sues of com­mon con­cern, and evolve a strate­gic con­sen­sus to re­spond to se­cu­rity chal­lenges of the re­gion,”

Mean­while, the Afghan gov­ern­ment’s di­a­logue with Tal­iban, fa­cil­i­tated by Pak­istan, stalled af­ter the first round at Mur­ree due to re­ports about Mul­lah Omar’s demise. The Afghan pres­i­dent said he was no more in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing the talks.

This was the not the first in­ci­dent of its kind. In fact, it would seem that Pak­istan is to Afghanistan, roughly, what In­dia is to Pak­istan. For in­stance, Pak­istani troops fire into Afghanistan as much with­out provo­ca­tion as In­dian troops fire into Pak­istan. Kabul sum­mons the Pak­istani am­bas­sador and Is­lam­abad sum­mons the In­dian High Com­mis­sioner to register protest.

Amaz­ingly, even though the con­fronta­tion be­tween Afghanistan and Pak­istan is even older than the Indo-Pak­istan stand­off, no po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst has at­tempted to delve into its causes. No one has tried to find the an­swer to the ques­tion as to why all Kabul gov­ern­ments have tra­di­tion­ally been closer to In­dia than to Pak­istan. It was only dur­ing the brief in­ter­lude of the Tal­iban rule that the sit­u­a­tion was re­versed. Oth­er­wise re­la­tions be­tween Afghanistan and Pak­istan have al­ways been ten­u­ous.

In the case of the Indo-Pak stand­off there is a ca­sus belli: Kash­mir. But Afghanistan and Pak­istan have no such dis­pute, Yet, Afghanistan has been al­ways hos­tile to­wards Pak­istan. Afghanistan was the only coun­try to op­pose Pak­istan’s ap­pli­ca­tion for UN mem­ber­ship When Pak­istan be­came in­de­pen­dent. No gov­ern­ment in Afghanistan, not even the Tal­iban, with whom Pak­istan had the most cor­dial re­la­tions, ever rec­og­nized the Du­rand Line as the in­ter­na­tional bound­ary be­tween the two coun­tries. Though Pak­istan was the first coun­try to rec­og­nize the Tal­iban regime, but when the U.S. in­vaded Afghanistan, Pak­istan de­tained Mul­lah Zaeef, the Tal­iban en­voy to Pak­istan, with­out for­mally sev­er­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions and handed him over to Amer­ica where he re­mained, in­car­cer­ated at Guan­tanamo for a num­ber of years. Yet, Pak­istan’s re­la­tions with the Tal­iban have re­mained cozy.

Pak­istan is irked at the spread of In­dian in­flu­ence in Afghanistan and fears be­ing en­cir­cled by In­dia. But it does not at­tempt to com­pete with In­dia in court­ing Kabul, per­haps be­cause it can­not match In­dia in re­sources. In­dia had in­vested US $10.8 bil­lion in Afghanistan as of 2012. It is work­ing on a num­ber of projects, in­clud­ing roads and other in­fra­struc­ture, while more projects are in the pipeline, such as “set­ting up iron ore mines, a 6 MTPA steel plant by Steel Au­thor­ity of In­dia Lim­ited, an 800 MW power plant, hy­dro-elec­tric power projects, trans­mis­sion lines and so forth.

If Pak­istan could not af­ford giv­ing eco­nomic as­sis­tance to Afghanistan, it could at least have ex­plored other fields, such as train­ing the Afghan mil­i­tary and po­lice per­son­nel. But it is In­dia where they go for the pur­pose. Pak­istan could at least have es­poused Afghanistan’s en­try into SAARC to demon­strate that it cares, but here, too, it failed to take the ini­tia­tive and left the field for In­dia to score another point.

It seems Pak­istan re­lies on bul­ly­ing and vi­o­lence but at­tacks on the In­dian em­bassy in Kabul and its con­sulate in Herat, or even the latest Tal­iban at­tack can achieve no pur­pose. They have not forced In­dia to close its em­bassy or con­sulates or halt its work on re­con­struc­tion projects. Nor has the latest Kabul at­tack com­pelled Ashraf Ghani to sur­ren­der power to the Tal­iban.

Vi­o­lence can­not en­dear Pak­istan to the Afghans. It is per­ceived as a coun­try that nur­tures ter­ror­ists. While Ta­jik and Uzbek el­e­ments, rep­re­sented, re­spec­tively, by the CEO, Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah and the war­lord Ab­dul Rasheed Dos­tum, are openly op­posed to Pak­istan, even among the Pash­tuns, rep­re­sented by the Tal­iban, Pak­istan’s stock is not very high.

Pak­istan holds the Afghan Tal­iban tightly in its em­brace against the Kabul gov­ern­ment, while In­dia has signed a sheaf of MoUs with Kabul dur­ing the last few years. Three such MoUs re­late to strength­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion in the fields of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and stan­dard­iza­tion be­tween the Bureau of In­dian Stan­dards and the Afghan Na­tional Stan­dard­i­s­a­tion Au­thor­ity. In 2011, Afghanistan signed its first strate­gic pact with In­dia.

Mean­while, Pak­istan’s pol­i­cy­mak­ers are com­fort­able with the thought that with­out Pak­istan’s as­sis­tance there can be no peace in Afghanistan. Pak­istan’s as­sis­tance has a price tag, though. It wants the Tal­iban to be back in power, be­cause that is the only way to check In­dia’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in Afghanistan. This, how­ever, is eas­ier said than done.

The good old days are not go­ing to re­turn. At best, the Tal­iban might be given some share in power which may not sat­isfy Pak­istan. But hard at­ti­tudes will push Afghanistan into civil war and Af-Pak re­la­tions will re­main un­friendly.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers are com­fort­able with the thought that with­out Pak­istan’s as­sis­tance there can be no peace in Afghanistan.

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