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  Afghanistan and Pakistan: friends and enemies

Vaiva Sapetkaitë, Institute of International Relations and Political Science Vilnius University
2011 12 26

Relations of Afghanistan and Pakistan are rather complicated and this is mostly due to the ambiguous foreign policy of the states. The impact of civil authorities of both countries on own territories is limited. Especially in Afghanistan where administration of President Hamid Karzai practically has no impact on certain remote provinces, differently from terror groupings. Situation in Pakistan is different, here the power is in the hands of the army. The influence of ISI, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, is also huge (sometimes Western countries blame it for supporting Taliban).

Afghan-Pakistani relations are hindered by many old problems and ambiguities, yet there are some hopeful perspectives, since both sides are interested in friendly relations. The main reasons of disagreements are: the Durand Line, struggle against terrorism and India.

According to Hamid Karzai, “Durand line is a boundary line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers”. The Durand Line is the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan recognized at international level but not recognized by Afghanistan since the border divides major ethnic groups of different states. The Afghan Government mainly composed of Pushtuns claims that the Pushtun territories of Pakistan rightly belong to Afghanistan. Similar situation is in Balochistan where the Durand Line divided the Baloch and Afghan countries (Pushtuns in Balochistan is the largest ethnic group). Because of the Durand Line Afghanistan was the only state to oppose Pakistan’s membership in the United Nations Organization when the country declared Independence in 1947.

Another important issue is security. There is no stability in the above territories, various incidents are frequent at national borders, including the activity of terror groupings. The number of incidents has increased since 2001 after the fall of the Taliban government in Kabul. Smugglers are also active there, drug routes extend throughout the uncontrolled locations and supplies various terror groupings and local farmers.

Although Pakistan declares the war against terror, the U.S. and Afghan authorities accuse Pakistan of being passive and providing support to terrorists. At the beginning of October Barack Obama accused Pakistan for connections between Pakistan’s army and intelligence services with the Afghan extremists who have all chances to take over the power in the country after the withdrawal of the U.S. military forces. Whereas Hamid Karzai says that this is another attempt to destabilize his Government (composed mainly of Pushtuns) and to give the power to a pro-Pakistani government.

Indian factor is also instrumental. Since 1947, when Great Britain released its control over India and the Muslims established Pakistan, the two countries have been deadly enemies. Today the major problem is the territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan laid claims to this territory.

Pakistan is concerned about warming Afghan-Indian relations, whereas Afghanistan tries to keep balance between the two competitors. When in October Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership agreement on cooperation after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai sought to reassure Pakistan by saying that “Pakistan is a twin brother, India is a great friend. The strategic agreement with our great friend would not affect our twin brother”.

India could help Afghanistan to improve situation in the sphere of education and infrastructure. Major India’s support would be directed toward training the Afghan security forces and India has already allocated USD 2 billion (by the way, this sum is nearly six times larger that Pakistan’s support to Afghanistan). India is of the opinion that stability in Afghanistan is directly related to its security, therefore the country would spare no funds.

According to Vygandas Uđackas, the EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan, though strong regional states in Afghanistan have different claims, geopolitical contraposition could be replaced by interdependence through the specific projects. One of such projects is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline. Irrespective of disagreements between Afghanistan and Pakistan, their history and even future is interrelated. The authorities of both countries seem to realize that and inform (at the highest level) on the intentions to improve the relationship. Yet, sometimes they seem to overdo it. In October Hamid Karzai said that in case of military conflict between the United States and Pakistan he would support Pakistan. Though later Karzai explained that by saying the above he wanted to calm Islamabad concerning a strategic military agreement initiative between Afghanistan and the U.S., this message irritated American officers who interpreted Karzai’s words as betrayal. Despite the serious disagreements between the U.S. and Pakistan, gunfight is not in their plans.

More intense trade relations, improvement of communication and transport infrastructure and inter-institutional cooperation could bring more stability to the region. In July 2010, Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding for going ahead with the laying of rail tracks between the two countries. The countries have also signed trade and transit agreement. The rail tracks would link Quetta in Pakistan with Kandahar in Afghanistan, and Peshawar in Pakistan with Jalalabad in Afghanistan. Pursuant to the Transit Trade Agreement, landlocked Afghanistan would have access to Pakistani seaports and overland routes to open up trade across the border with India. All the above steps are instrumental and contribute to the improvement of political climate in the region.

Non-governmental organizations have also contributed to the improvement of relations of the two states (e.g. Afghanistan-Pakistan People’s Friendship Organization). This organization tries to solve the problem of refugees, free trade zone, education, regional security, struggle against poverty etc.

Afghan concerns over Pakistan are understandable in the light of the proposed withdrawal of the U.S. troops by 2014. Without any doubt this would affect terror groups in the region, therefore effective struggle against terrorism would be instrumental (and impossible without Pakistan). For Pakistan good relations are necessary in order to prevent Afghanistan from falling under the influence of India and from becoming an instrument being used against Pakistan.

Thus, without stable Afghanistan it is impossible to ensure stability in the entire region.

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