Strength and weaknesses of Pak-Afghan relations

The removal of both Bhutto and Daud meant the relationship could not develop

Clearly, not in Pakistan but in Afghanistan, both superpowers of the time, the USA and the USSR, remained active in their own way and desired to minimise the other’s influence in the country and so especially in the post-World War Two phase, in comparison to Pakistan, Afghanistan was considered a hotbed of international politics.

As Afghanistan knew this well, it took benefits of the rivalry as well as the competition between superpowers. Although President Ayub Khan was confident about Afghanistan’s leanings towards the USSR, the USA was not in favour of being tough in regards to Kabul only because it would provide the USSR more access in Kabul, damaging US interests in the region and Afghanistan as well, along with pushing the country near to the Kremlin. In the meantime, Afghanistan allowed the USA to use Peshawar airport for its U-2 flights, which prompted the USSR to become ready for Afghan help to balance Washington’s influence in Kabul. As a result, the Kremlin began supporting every Afghan move to isolate or damage Pakistani interests.

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Russian strength and backing encouraged Afghanistan to conduct cross-border raids in Pakistani territories in the early 1960s and it further led to termination of Pak-Afghan relations, closure of consulates and trade offices, breaking of diplomatic relations and suspension of transit trade with Pakistan. The suspension of transit trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan more damaged Kabul economically as it was a landlocked country, having limited access to the world through Iran and with India by airways.

In the new situation the USA came under pressure to help Afghanistan, failing which Russia would again get an opportunity to assist and expand its power and influence in the country and region. As expected, US pressure on Pakistan for rapprochement with Afghanistan worked and Islamabad agreed, rather unwillingly, and allowed Afghan tentacles across the border and also consented to meet Afghan’ foreign minister in New York.

In the talks held in September 1962, the role of mediator was performed by Tehran in which both-Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to restore diplomatic relations, re-open closed borders and resume trade and commercial ties. In addition, they also agreed to solve all their problems in accordance with international laws and continue to work for mutual benefit, cooperation and understanding.

Restoration of full-fledged relationship between the two resulted in the resignation of Afghan Prime Minister Sardar Daud, a staunch supporter of Pakhtoonistan, in March 1963, and by midyear their relations were back to normal and the demand for separate statehood went in the background. Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, it proved the golden moment for Pak-Afghan relationship and it improved to such an extent that during India-Pakistan war of 1965, Kabul sided with Pakistan which enabled it to focus on war with no care for security of its western border.

The understanding reached in this period gave a boost to their economic relationship when King Zahir Shah visited Islamabad in 1968, followed by the tour of Pakistan’s Finance Minister to explore the possibilities of increasing trade and fields of economy between the two countries. For some time to come their mutual understanding continued as Pakistan had disbanded its one-unit scheme, implemented eairlier, and Afghanistan also remained neutral during the India-Pakistan war of 1971 and refused to take any advantage of Pakistan’s preoccupation in war.

Daud moved for reconciliation and invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto for a Kabul visit and gave him an unprecedented warm welcome in course of the tour in June 1976. and aud himself went to Pakistan two months later in the same year to revive earlier trust, defuse tension, and find peaceful co-existence as well as pacific settlements of old disputes.

The years between 1963 and 1973 in Pak-Afghan relations were too good to last and before solving any historical dispute, it reverted back in July 1973 with Sardar Daud, a committed supporter of Pakhtoonistan replacing Zahir Shah, while he was on a medical tour to Europe. He took the help of leftist forces directly and the USSR indirectly. The leftist forces mainly belonged to the Parcham wing under Babrak Karmal of the Communist People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

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The new ruler eradicated monarchy in the country and established a republic under his presidency but he accommodated pro-Soviet elements in large numbers in the government and higher bureaucracy. This development in Kabul was not liked either by the USA or Pakistan and was considered as an extension of Soviet powers and influence in Afghanistan. Islamabad, in particular, viewed the event as repetition of Daud’s earlier history in Afghanistan when he used to foment separatists of Pakistan-Pakhtoon and Balochi living across the Durand Line.

Daud, the new ruler of Afghanistan, stood clearly with Baloch insurgents and announced in 1974-75 that his forces would gather around the Pak-Afghan borders a under the guise of war games and it was responded by Pakistan by doing the same along the western border, In addition, Afghanistan also hosted and motivated Pashtun-Baloch militants who were against Pakistan to work under the leadership of National Awami Party led by Abdul Wali Khan. In retaliation, Islamabad too harboured against Kabul and start supporting Islamic movements led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Massoud, both members of the Jamiat-e-Islami, along with the Haqqanis, and asked them to rise against the government of Afghanistan.

It not only welcomed them in Pakistan but also provided them training and other support for attacks and incursions inside the Kabul and soon it prepared a group of dissidents numbering around 5000. Another neighbour, Iran, considered Afghan action as a step against Pakhtuns who were living in their country and may rise and unite in the name of Pashtun nationalism. Although the issue of Pakhtoon and Baloch were not new, inept handling of it by the Pakistan government for long made it an issue which over years transformed into a demand for political autonomy.

After coming to power in Afghanistan, Daud felt the need of Afghanistan’s friendship with Pakistan on account of the increasing power and influence of pro-Soviet forces and he viewed this relationship in the interest of the Kabul as he was also fed up with Islamist groups operating against the Afghan government encouraged by Islamabad.

In this situation, he moved for reconciliation and invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto for a Kabul visit and gave him an unprecedented warm welcome in course of the tour in June 1976. and aud himself went to Pakistan two months later in the same year to revive earlier trust, defuse tension, and find peaceful co-existence as well as pacific settlements of old disputes. These moments of good relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan did not long and the last silver line of hope and expectation ended with the overthrow of the Bhutto government in July 1977 in a military coup hatched by Gen Ziaul Haq, followed by the assassination of Daud by Communist forces in April 1978. These events, once again, pushed both Kabul and Islamabad into an atmosphere of political instability as well as social unrest and chaos.

Dr Rajkumar Singh
The writer is head of the political science department of the B.N.Mandal University, Madhepura, Bihar, India and can be reached at [email protected]

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