Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations: Dispelling Historical Truths

Pakistan and Afghanistan's old flag depicting the two nations relations.
Flags of Pakistan and Afghanistan side by side, symbolizing the intertwined history, challenges, and hopes in the complex relationship between the two neighbouring nations.

The bogey of Pashtunistan and the oft-repeated claim that Durand Line was accepted by Afghanistan’s Iron Amir, Abdur Rehman Khan, under duress, were refuted in the last column. It was also clarified that Pakistan, in reality, provides ‘strategic depth’ to Afghanistan… not the other way round. We continue to debate the misperceptions and the consequent bitterness among Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.

Decoding Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations

Fourth, Afghans hold that Pakistan contributed to Afghanistan’s miseries. By the way, when was Afghanistan at peace with itself and with its neighbors? Without going too deep into history, since Ahmed Shah Abdali created the Afghan kingdom in 1747, it has seen warfare, internecine fighting, domestic revolts, foreign invasions and scrimmage for power among its entrenched power elite…the state, the clergy, the peasantry, the monarchy, the Army, and others. It was British India and later Pakistan that historically hosted and housed (and continues to do so) the displaced and uprooted humanity from Afghan soil, irrespective of ethnicity, religion and sect.

During Hijrat Movement of 19th and 20th century,, the Ulema of Subcontinent had declared Hind (British India) as Darul-Harb

The only exception of significant reverse migration is one, when in the Hijrat movement of 19th and 20th Centuries, the Ulema of Subcontinent had declared Hind (British India) as Darul-Harb (the Home of Warfare), and mandated Muslim to migrate to Afghanistan being Darul-Amn (Home of Peace). Those who migrated did not have good experiences and mostly returned to the infidel-run British India having suffered losses in men, material and dignity. Haven’t the seminaries in Indo-Pakistan provided the much-needed religious education and enlightenment to Afghans throughout history?

The Refugee Dilemma and Diplomatic Implications

More recently, did Pakistan invite the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan? Or it were the Afghan communists of the Peoples’ Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and its bickering Khalq and Parcham factions which did so under the touted Saur Revolution. And Pakistanis opened their arms, valets and homes to welcome a whopping 5 million refugees: then the largest in the world. And Pakistan did so, without being a signatory to the ‘1951 Convention on Refugees’ and its 1967 Protocol…purely on humanitarian grounds, under religious affinity and because of good neighbourly-ness.

Pakistan established full-fledged mechanisms to deal with this human deluge. One smart participant in the cited TV show, like most ill-read others, claimed Pakistan was bound to help refugees under agreement(s) it signed. He was reminded that the Agreement he was referring to was for repatriation. Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement in Brussels in 2003 emphasizing ‘gradualism’ and ‘voluntarism’ in the repatriation process, which Pakistan has hitherto ensured. In 2012, SSAR (Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees) Agreement added Iran to the repatriation process.

Also Read: Pakistan-Taliban Relationship: Understanding Complexities

SSAR stipulates ‘international support’ for voluntary repatriation; ‘sustainable integration’ of refugees in Afghanistan; and support for host countries. Sadly, the international community has not been very forthcoming due to donor fatigue and the complications of dealing through/around the Afghan Interim Government (AIG) after 2021. Further detail is contained in my piece ‘Afghan Refugees and Pakistan: Separating Fact from Fiction’, published in The Express Tribune on 7 January 2024.

Fifth, rebuffing Afghans’ recurrent misperceptions of history and reality, did Pakistan lobby with the first Taliban Government in 1990s to allow Osama Bin Laden, and his Al-Qaeda franchise to form bases in Afghanistan, along with its Uighur, Chechen, Arab and Uzbek militant cohorts? Did Pakistan invite the US-led foreign second invasion in 2001 or did it help in Islamic Emirate’s consequent overthrow? If so, why would Pakistan allow Afghans to safely live with families all over Pakistan, freely pursuing economic, religious and academic interests, outside and not inside the barbed-wired refugee camps.

Image Credits: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Addressing Persistent Misunderstandings

Sixth, the formation of Islamic Emirate now and then. Wasn’t it Pakistan’s ‘despised’ ISI that organised, mentored, assisted and persisted in liberating Afghanistan from the clutches of Soviet Union, while many Afghans like Karmals, Tarakais and Najeebullahs et al were sitting in Moscow’s lap? Wasn’t it Pakistan’s sincere efforts for Afghanistan’s peace and liberation that it formed the ‘Seven-Party Alliance’ out of the bickering and feuding anti-Soviet resistance fighters, in order to give the jihad a direction and the much-needed synergy? How about the formation of the Interim Afghan Government (AIG), this time around?

Isn’t Islamabad Kabul’s only interlocutor in a world where Afghanistan has few friends?

Isn’t Islamabad Kabul’s only interlocutor in a world where Afghanistan has few friends? Hasn’t Islamabad been a friend-in-need while TTP still plans murderous attacks from Afghan soil on Pakistan and its forces, even killing school kids? Seventh, when was Pakistan’s soil used against Afghanistan and its interests?

The archaic argument from the Afghan elite, the ashhrafiyya who fled with dollars in suitcases, that ex-FATA had safe havens against Afghanistan during the years of First Republic (2001-2012) is hypocritical. In reality, Pakistan aided and abetted the Afghan war of liberation…fought by the current political dispensation in Kabul. So, what justifies continuous use of Afghan soil by TTP against Pakistan, in the IEA-run liberated Afghanistan?

Is it how Pashtuns and Muslims, by extension, return shegara (favour)? By hosting enemies of the friends-in-need, and by not even restraining these murderous enemies from using Afghan soil against the spirit of Doha Agreement, against an indispensable friend and ally…Pakistan. How about the Islamic justification for hosting the killers of soldiers of a Muslim neighbour or innocent civilians?

Eighth, the bogey of ‘forced repatriation’ of Afghan refugees during the recent drive. As per SAFRON (Ministry of States and Frontier Regions) data, corroborated by UNHCR’s June 2023 report, there were 1.3 million ‘registered’ Afghan refugees (13,33,749 to be precise). Around 0.6 million migrated to Pakistan after IEA took over Kabul in August 2021.

Out of this figure around 0.5 million have been repatriated till recently. However, around 0.7 million unregistered refugees, mostly ‘unwilling’ to register, remain worrisome. The Government of Pakistan alongside UNHCR issued ACC (Afghan Citizenship Card) and undertook POR (Proof of Registration) drives to document these ‘illegals’. However, this exercise largely remained inconclusive due to unwillingness of the illegals, scattered all over Pakistan. Illegals, like in any country, are worrying as these have amongst them RAW, former KhAD, IS, TTP members and infiltrated sleeper cells etc.

Forced deportation was resorted to for a miniscule number, unwilling to go back and those indicted and imprisoned in Pakistan. The even longer list of Pakistan’s grievances notwithstanding, our Afghan brethren, especially its well-heeled Western diaspora need to realise …that continued anti-Pakistan tirades would do no good to common Afghans and Afghanistan’s land-locked geography, poverty-stricken citizenry or Pakistan-dependent economy. It is better to see the reason!

This article is for informational purposes only. Find the original publication here.

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Inam ul Haq is a seasoned researcher and policy analyst with a keen focus on addressing national and international issues impacting South Asia, particularly Pakistan

Inam ul Haq

Inam ul Haq is a seasoned researcher and policy analyst with a keen focus on addressing national and international issues impacting South Asia, particularly Pakistan