The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.

Grassroots of tension between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the implications

By: Saleem Kakar

Afghanistan and Pakistan have a long history of tense relations since the partition of British India which resulted in the establishment of Pakistan in 1947. Many think tanks and thinkers argue that the historical tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan is rooted in a complex web of factors, including nationalism, historical disputes, and strategic considerations. Therefore, the key reasons contributing to this longlasting dispute relate to 1) na tion-state, secular constitutions and rule of law, 2) Durand Line, and 3) proxy wars. 1. Nation-state: When the political power of Muslims of the Indian subcontinent went through a decline, the British army took advantage of the opportunity by directly invading India, turning it as one of its colonies. The British rule created various calamities for the Indian Muslims as they were left in isolation, especially in the political stages and they were losing their independence. Hence, the Muslims of India, including intellectuals, religious scholars, and inspirational youth made all their efforts to seek independence and get rid of British rule. Their advocacy and effort for the establishment of an Islamic state paid off when the Great Britain was grappling with the aftermath of World War II, resulting in the creation of Pakistan – an independent polity for Indian Muslims. The sad reality, however, is that soon after sitting on the political throne, the new rulers of Pakistan instead of adopting a comprehensive Islamic system throughout the country, preferred to apply a secular system by endorsing a secular Constitution – undermining the aspirations of Muslims who used to sacrifice their lives only to see an Islamic state coming into existence. Such a pragmatic measure created a huge gap and distance between the Muslim people (referred to as Pakistani nationals) and the government (referred to as the Republic of Pakistan), even leading to the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) from the polity of Pakistan (formerly known as West Pakistan) back in 1971. It needs mentioning that the nationalistic sentiments and secular narratives both by the government of Pakistan and Afghanistan have played a significant role in shaping the sense of national pride and national values on both sides of the artificial border, influencing the actions and intentions of both governments regarding each other. Furthermore, the secular influences in education, legal systems, and governance have played a role in shaping the overall societal framework in Pakistan. This has sometimes led to tensions between those advocating for a more secular approach and those emphasizing a stricter implementation of Islamic principles inside Pakistan 2. Durand Line: The Durand Line was established in 1893 by Mortimer Durand, a British diplomat, to demarcate the border between British India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan. This division cut through the Pashtun tribal areas, separating communities that share historical, cultural, and familial ties. Though, Afghanistan has never formally recognized the Durand Line as its border, this has been one of the consistent sources of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan, putting the Muslims of the two sides on hot water. The Pakistan nationalists see it as an international border while the Afghan nationalists argue that the border was imposed without their consent, leading to territorial claims and disputes over Pashtun-majority regions. It is indeed the existence of artificial Durand Land that has created huge quagmires across the Pashtun tribal areas over the past decades, threatening the government of Pakistan as well. 3. Proxy Wars: During the Cold War, Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviets in 1979 whereas Pakistan was aligning closely with the United States to help the Americans defeat the Russians. It was indeed during that harsh time the Pakistan government provided shelter to thousands of Afghans who were striving to seek refuge because of the disastrous country-wide conflicts and brutal Civil War. As a result, the government of Pakistan was on a honeymoon as it was receiving direct funds from the United States aimed at mobilizing and redirecting funds to some of the Islamic groups operating against the Soviets inside Afghanistan. Such a pragmatic foreign policy employed by Pakistani officials garnered support from the West (United States, Europe, United Nations, and other international institutions), putting Pakistan in the list of fast-moving developing countries. Likewise, when the United States declared its ‘War on Terror’ agenda in 2001, the Pakistan government directly happened to be supporting the U.S. strategic plots by showing a green light for the American occupation of Afghanistan – as the port of Karachi helped facilitate logistical support to U.S.-NATO military convoys. Indeed, it was one of the political mistakes and miscalculations of the Pakistan government to hook again in the U.S. military campaign by not only permitting its aerial space but also waging war in the Pashtun tribal areas dictated by the United States. So, by waging proxy wars and participating in the U.S. club, Pakistan not only lost billions of dollars but also saw its reputation damaged in the eyes of the Pakistani public country-wide – the Pakistani rulers were mostly seen as the stooge of the United States in the region. The legacy of these proxy wars has had lasting impacts on regional dynamics as well. In fact, this historical tense relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan have had widespread implications that affect Muslims within the two countries, particularly Pakistani and Afghan businessmen, traders, patients, and students in the broader region. I would like to point out to some of the main entities that have been primarily affected by means of such tense relations. First, the diplomatic and/or mutual relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been strained so far, affecting the functioning of embassies and the ability to engage in constructive dialogue. As a matter of fact, Pakistani officials have sent various delegations (top diplomats, intelligence officials and religious clerics, especially Maulana Fazl Rehman) to ensure their wish-list is accommodated by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – on top which is the cause of TTP. So, we see there has been no practical progress in mutual talks and efforts because of tense relations. Second, the populations residing in both Pakistan and Afghanistan are directly affected by any tensions, especially across the Durand Line – the artificial border. This includes disruptions to daily life, economic instability, and potential security concerns, particularly in border regions where the impact of geopolitical tensions is often more pronounced. Besides, tensions exacerbate existing humanitarian challenges, affecting vulnerable populations. This includes limitations on access to essential services, displacement, and increased difficulty in delivering aid to those in need. Third, a strained relationship disrupts economic ties and trade between the two countries, affecting businesses and industries that rely on cross-border commerce. High tariffs, restrictions, border strains and uncertainties directly harm economic growth and stability. In addition, investors and businesses will hesitate to invest in an environment of political tension, leading to a slowdown in economic development. This also affects job creation and overall economic prosperity both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Fourth, tensions further contribute to an increase in migration flows, as people will seek safety and stability in neighboring countries and beyond. This will strain resources in host countries and contribute to larger regional migration challenges – as the caretaker government of Pakistan ensured the forced deportation of Afghans from Pakistan in November 2023, creating challenges for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Fifth, increased tensions have led to trade barriers such as stricter border controls, delays, and closure of Torkham, Spin Boldak, and Ghulam Khan crossings. For Pakistani and Afghan businessmen and traders dealing in seasonal fruits and vegetables, the tension disrupts the timely and efficient movement of perishable goods, leading to financial losses for both nations. Moreover, farmers in both countries who rely on exporting seasonal produce to their destination markets face challenges due to trade disruptions. Restrictions result in the depreciation of perishable goods, affecting the livelihoods of those involved in the agricultural sector. Likewise, trade disruptions in seasonal fruits and vegetables contribute to food insecurity for both Muslim populations, both in Afghanistan and in areas reliant on these imports in Pakistan. This can have socioeconomic implications and affect the nutritional well-being of communities. Sixth, restrictions and delays hugely impact the timely import of medical supplies, including those related to agriculture and healthcare. This affects patients seeking medical treatment, leading to potential shortages or delays in accessing necessary medications. Furthermore, restrictions on cross-border movement also impacts the educational opportunities for Afghan students who are currently pursuing studies at Pakistani universities and/or for those who are likely to join universities simply because they are unable to receive Pakistani visas. Seventh, the neighboring countries in the region will also be affected by tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan if it keeps continuing. Regional stability may be compromised, with potential implications for diplomatic relationships, trade routes, and security dynamics.

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The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.