Pak: Counting the cost of courting Afghanistan -- By Brig(Rtd) M Abdul hafiz Back   Home  

The UN and the Western powers, favouring tougher sanctions have never hidden their suspicion about Pakistan being responsible for making the existing embargo ineffective. This places Islamabad in a precarious situation offering only perilous options.

AFGHANISTAN had once been the sworn enemy of Pakistan. So much so that it was the only country at the UN in 1947 not to recognise Pakistan as a sovereign independent state. In 1949 at its behest a Loya Jirga (grand assembly of tribal elders) repudiated the Durand line imposed by British India's foreign secretary, Sir Mortimier Durand between Durrani Kingdom of Afghanistan and British Indian empire in 1893 and one that was inherited by Pakistan as its international border with Afghanistan. This combined with an Afghan demand for independent Pushtunistan comprising lands where the Pushtuns were in majority in Pakistan came to be marked by an open hostility between the two countries. Later, the cold war politics spilled into Pak-Afghan relationship and made it all the more complex.

Pakistan in its desperate search for a strategic depth in its conflict with India could not possibly afford this relationship with Afghanistan. On the latter's part she also could not confront Pakistan on whom the poor landlocked country was critically dependent for transit and trade, for long. Therefore inspite of hostility and bitterness there had been an urge on the part of the both to woo each other. However, the experience of their relationship had seldom been smooth or pleasant and was marked by a series of ups and downs. By the time the Saur revolution took place in 1978 the Pushtunistan issue, the main bone of contention, was significantly toned down and frontier between the two became relatively peaceful.

The Soviet invasion, a year later was a watershed in Pak-Afghan relations bringing both prospects and difficulties for Pakistan in her bid to improve relations with Afghanistan. During the long Soviet occupation period Pakistan not only sheltered hundreds of thousands Afghan refugees she also bore the brunt of the war of resistance against pro-Soviet-government in Kabul with a hope that Pakistan would be subsequently able to install a friendly government in Afghanistan. Pakistan's hopes were however dashed once the resistance war ended. Because the aftermath of the civil war in Afghanistan brought in its wake certain fundamental changes in Afghan polity, the prominent being the erosion of a central authority exercised by Pushtun dominated Durrani rulers for over two centuries. After Soviet withdrawal Afghanistan became split into multiple centres of power, some friendly but most of them hostile to Pakistan, with Mujahideen leaders becoming competing warlords after Najibullah's fall in 1992.

As the Soviets pulled out and Soviet Union itself collapsed soon the Mujahideen leaders from their Pakistani camps rushed roughshod to grab power in Kabul, no outsider including Pakistan knew whom to deal with in Afghanistan. Finally when Tajik-dominated Rabbani-Masood combination was installed as government in Kabul according to Islamabad Declaration of 1993 and remained in dominant position hill 1996 some of its preferences and propensities were unacceptable to Pakistan. In the meantime Pakistan's stakes in Afghanistan were considerably raised and it was no more the question of a secured western front and strategic depth only. Pakistan's devise to direct the course of Afghan policy acquired a new urgency as this fuel-starved country was presented with an opportunity for an access to oil and gas resources of Central Asia. after the disintegration of USSR.

Neither Pakistan's dream of a secured western front and strategic depth nor her desire for a share in Central Asian bonanza came to a fruition. The country has however paid high price in socio-economic terms in following a meandering course of its policy in Afghanistan with a lot of twists and turns. Although a decade-long Afghan resistance provided Pakistan a renewed strategic importance and helped her getting substantial Western aid it also caused her huge economic drain in sustaining hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, many of whom are still to return to a war-ravaged country further hit by prolonged drought and acute shortage of food. It also caused a serious proliferation of sophisticated arms in the country and introduced a gun-toting 'Kalashnikov' culture in the society. As the country was the main conduit for the Western arms supply it was also indiscriminately used for huge drug trafficking by both Afghan and Pakistani criminals. As a result the narcotic dependence of Pakistani youth is one of the highest in the world.

But the worse was still awaited. As the mysterious Taliban forces emerging from the obscure religious seminaries of Pakistan occupied Kabul in 1996 in a sharp swift expedition and swept through the rest of the country in next two years it brought at the best a mixed bag for Pakistan. It could have given some more say to Pakistan in Afghan affairs but as the events subsequently unfolded in Afghanistan the Taliban ruled country was an embarrassment for Pakistan. Although Pakistan persistently denies its Taliban connection, few outsiders however believed it. Because, at the height of Taliban fortune when it captured Kabul in 1996 Pakistan was the first country to recognsie it. It is believed that Pakistani impatience for quick and acceptable end to Afghan civil war prompted her to back Pushtun-dominated Taliban forces. Without waiting any longer to build up a consensus among the Mujahideen leaders Pakistan opted for trying the Talibans for providing a stable internal order so that she could achieve her objectives both in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

But instead of securing Pakistani interests, the Taliban's have created new problem for her pushing across the border their militant brand of Islam. By providing sanctuary to terrorists and exporting Jihad beyond Afghan soil the Taliban have put at stake Pakistan's relationship with the West. Particularly the United States. Because of Pakistan's widely believed nexus with present Afghan rulers the country has come dangerously close to be identified as one promoting terrorism. Under Taliban influence a large number of well armed religious outfits preaching Jihad have come up in Pakistan. Even the government finds difficulty in dealing with these defiant groups. The Talibans are fast becoming role-model for Pakistan's religious zealots with its destabilizing effect on the country's internal order.

There are still two million Afghan refugees who are languishing in Pakistani camps and living on the scraps doled out by UNHCR. The Taliban's harsh rule at home compels the fresh Afghan refugees to pour into Pakistan which is already under severe financial crunch. The Talibans enjoy a poor global image because of their extremism. Their dogmatic views on Jihad, gender equality, minorities and iconoclasm earned them criticism and hostility of international community. Pakistan, as the sole backer of Talibans has to share some of the blames heaped on the Talibans. Ironically, Pakistan is expected to use its good offices in handing over bin-Laden, the Saudi fugitive believed to be holed up in Afghanistan, although Pakistan does not in any manner comes in the way.

In December last, a draconian embargo was imposed on Afghanistan by United Nations Security Council. This fresh sanctions entailed a ban on trade and travel to and from Afghanistan, restriction on Taliban official's travel abroad, closure of Taliban office and missions worldwide, seizure of any identifiable assets and an arms embargo against Talibans. Pakistan, considered the mainstay of the Talibans was under tremendous pressure to make the sanction, particularly the arms embargo work. All these hardly tamed the Talibans who remained as defiant as even either on bin-Laden or any other Taliban agenda. As regards arms procurement from outside they airily dismiss the idea telling that they have sufficient of them in them armoury.

Yet late last month the UNSC has voted a mechanism to monitor and enforce the international arms embargo imposed on Taliban government last December. It is designed to keep a track of the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The UNSC's plan to use the services of 20 experts to monitor and help enforce the arms embargo against Afghanistan places Pakistan in an awkward and highly volatile situation. While Islamabad deplored the decision describing it as an intrusion on its sovereignty it, however, said that it would abide by it and not hamper the monitors' work. For Pakistan this, however, means taking over a plethora of responsibilities ranging from providing internal security to the monitors to almost waging war with Afghanistan if Talibans who already rejected the idea of placing monitors decide to get aggressive.

In the meantime the UN and the Western powers, favouring tougher sanctions have never hidden their suspicion about Pakistan being responsible for making the existing embargo ineffective. This places Islamabad in a precarious situation offering only perilous options.

This article was published in DailyStar, Bangladesh. The author is former DG of BIISS.