By Farakh A. Khan
Former British Foreign Minister, David Miliband in his article ‘How to end the war in Afghanistan’ claimed that ‘neither UK nor US started the war in Afghanistan’. Then who did? Miliband is either ill informed or deliberately not telling the truth. Either way this is not an unusual claim.
Afghanistan has been at war for the last 30 years. With Russian invasion of 1979 Afghanistan was a pawn between Russia and the U.S. in the Cold War era. The Americans not only supplied arms and armament but also a heavy dose of Saudi brand of Islam through Pakistan, promoting Jihad. The leaders of Mujahideen were on the pay role of the Saudis and Americans including Osama bin Laden. Later the foremost villain in the eyes of the Americans was Osama bin Laden and his organisation Al Qaeda setup by the CIA. When the Americans left Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the Russian Army, the Afghans were left to cook in their own juice. Huge amounts of arms in the country turned the Mujahideen into warlords. It was the Taliban, which gave Afghanistan stability and security. However, they also produced major problems in implementation of their brand of Islam, trying, as they were, to take them back to the 9th century.
Now that the international community is ready to quit Afghanistan by next year we need to think of Pakistan’s future policy regarding Afghanistan. We hear of many contradictory versions of future of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s FATA in 2014. Most of the advice is from sources that have little knowledge of history of the area and their ancient culture. Pakistan’s immediate concern is of Pakistani Taliban (which actually comprises over 40 groups) some of which are responsible for suicide attacks and bombing of military and civilian targets. Some advisors are downright naive with no knowledge of the area. They claim that Pakistan can talk to Taliban only when they ‘lay down their arms’. They do not realise that guns are part of their family heirloom and cannot be thrown away at the whims of some Babu in Islamabad.
The US has allowed opening of Taliban office in Doha. The Pakistani press has gone viral claiming that Pakistan was responsible for this change in US policy. Let us be clear Pakistan has no role to play in Afghan Taliban policy and is still groping in the dark regarding Pakistan’s Taliban policy at the national level.
As usual I have to get you back in time to look into future. We all know that Afghanistan was the only country that opposed entry of Pakistan to United Nations in 1947. Why? The reason is simple. Durand Line (similar to McMahon Line of 1914 between British India and Tibet) was drawn by Sir Mortimer Durand and Amir Abdur Rehman in 1893 to demarcate spheres of ‘interest’ between Afghanistan and British India. The actual survey was done between 1894-96. It was never conceived as a border since it cuts across the Pakhtun and Baloch tribes on either side, leaving a porous ‘border’. For the tribes the ‘border’ did not exist. Pakistan government accepts the Line as an international border but has little control over it. Successive Afghan governments to rev up anti-Pakistan sentiments exploited this situation. At one stage the slogan of Pakhtunistan by the successive Afghan governments was in vogue. For the Afghans their kings used Peshawar as their summer capital up to 1820s before being taken over by Sikh forces and later by the British.
Having three times driven across Afghanistan in 1960s and 70s I felt distinct Afghan hostility towards Pakistan. In contrast they had a soft spot for India. The situation has not changed today. It would be naive to think that Pakistan can keep out India in Afghanistan.
Our western border called Durand Line will remain bone of contention between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This will merge our Afghan and FATA policies. Present and future Afghan governments shall use the Durand Line to raise the tribal sentiments on both sides of the Line. The Afghans, Taliban, tribes and other citizens, want the foreign forces out of their country. Historically the Afghans tribes are highly insular and do not tolerate foreign interference.
Although the Agreement expired in 1993, for the foreseeable future Durand Line will not become the border and we should accept the reality. From this point the Pakistan’s Afghan policy should move forward. Compared to Afghanistan Pakistan has robust army and air force which the Afghan government cannot challenge. Pakistan cannot invade Afghanistan across the Line for political reasons and ground realities. At best we should continue the age-old British policy. Pakistan’s policy of a friendly government in Afghanistan by promoting some warlords is a bad option and shall backfire. The best way forward today is to keep a friendly face towards Afghanistan and postpone the border issue at some date in the future.
At the moment Pakistan has serious issues with the FATA Taliban and their cohorts. This peaceful tribal belt exploded after 2004. There are different reasons for this violent reaction from peaceful people. Basically Pakhtuns are proud people and have a strong sense of revenge. US drone attacks have compounded the situation. The bomb blasts and suicide attacks in the cities of Pakistan evoked little sympathy for the Taliban cause. It is not surprising that the Taliban discontinued these bomb blasts in the cities.
Military action in FATA has not helped. Let us be clear that the people of Pakistan do not know the reality of military action in FATA since no independent sources are available. All we are told that army has moved large number of refugees into makeshift camps near Peshawar. These people have lost their homes and animals and have been reduced to paupers in their own country. The army action in FATA has been on-going since 2010 where air force sorties have destroyed ‘militant hideouts’ and killed significant numbers of ‘militants’ in the area almost on daily basis. These news items are not confirmed by independent sources. We do not know or care as to how many innocent people were killed in these air attacks, which are no different from drone strikes by US. Today, FATA policy is still in the hands of the army. The new government in Pakistan cannot move its FATA policy without army’s consent (‘same page’ or the ‘only page’ theory). Meanwhile,Pakistani economy is failing. The cost of ‘war on terror’ to Pakistan is estimated as being between $92 to $125 billion – we are not sure. Meanwhile Pakistan has lost 35,000 civilians and 3,500 army men. Imran Khan of PTI tried to force the issue by taking a ‘peace caravan’ to South Waziristan but was stopped at the border of South Waziristan due to ‘security concerns’.
The new government should gather data from sources within FATA, independent of the army before a realistic policy can be framed. Meanwhile 1.6 million registered and same numbers of unregistered Afghan refugees are somehow surviving in Pakistan since 2001. Will they go back? I have my doubts.
Durand Line: Source chitraltoday.net (2013)
Pakhtunistan: Source truslant.com
Durand Line Agreement
November 12, 1893 Source Wikipedia 2013
Agreement between Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, G. C. S. I., and Sir Henry
Mortimer Durand, K. C. I. E., C. S. I.
Whereas certain questions have arisen regarding the frontier of Afghanistan on the side
of India, and whereas both His Highness the Amir and the Government of India are
desirous of settling these questions by friendly understanding, and of fixing the limit of
their respective spheres of influence, so that for the future there may be no difference of
opinion on the subject between the allied Governments, it is hereby agreed as follows:
1. The eastern and southern frontier of his Highness’s dominions, from Wakhan to
the Persian border, shall follow the line shown in the map attached to this
2. The Government of India will at no time exercise interference in the territories
lying beyond this line on the side of Afghanistan, and His Highness the Amir will
at no time exercise interference in the territories lying beyond this line on the side
3. The British Government thus agrees to His Highness the Amir retaining Asmar
and the valley above it, as far as Chanak. His Highness agrees, on the other hand,
that he will at no time exercise interference in Swat, Bajaur, or Chitral, including
the Arnawai or Bashgal valley. The British Government also agrees to leave to
His Highness the Birmal tract as shown in the detailed map already given to his
Highness, who relinquishes his claim to the rest of the Waziri country and
Dawar. His Highness also relinquishes his claim to Chageh.
4. The frontier line will hereafter be laid down in detail and demarcated, wherever
this may be practicable and desirable, by joint British and Afghan commissioners,
whose object will be to arrive by mutual understanding at a boundary which shall
adhere with the greatest possible exactness to the line shown in the map attached
to this agreement, having due regard to the existing local rights of villages
adjoining the frontier.
5. With reference to the question of Chaman, the Amir withdraws his objection to
the new British cantonment and concedes to the British Governmeni the rights
purchased by him in the Sirkai Tilerai water. At this part of the frontier the line
will be drawn as follows:
From the crest of the Khwaja Amran range near the Psha Kotal, which remains
in British territory, the line will run in such a direction as to leave Murgha
Chaman and the Sharobo spring to Afghanistan, and to pass half-way between
the New Chaman Fort and the Afghan outpost known locally as Lashkar Dand.
The line will then pass half-way between the railway station and the hill known as
the Mian Baldak, and, turning south-wards, will rejoin the Khwaja Amran range,
leaving the Gwasha Post in British territory, and the road to Shorawak to the
west and south of Gwasha in Afghanistan. The British Government will not
exercise any interference within half a mile of the road.
6. The above articles of’ agreement are regarded by the Government of India and
His Highness the Amir of Afghanistan as a full and satisfactory settlement of all
the principal differences of opinion which have arisen between them in regard to
the frontier; and both the Government of India and His Highness the Amir
undertake that any differences of detail, such as those which will have to be
considered hereafter by the officers appointed to demarcate the boundary line,
shall be settled in a friendly spirit, so as to remove for the future as far as possible
all causes of doubt and misunderstanding between the two Governments.
7. Being fully satisfied of His Highness’s goodwill to the British Government, and
wishing to see Afghanistan independent and strong, the Government of India
will raise no objection to the purchase and import by His Highness of munitions
of war, and they will themselves grant him some help in this respect. Further, in
order to mark their sense of the friendly spirit in which His Highness the Amir
has entered into these negotiations, the Government of India undertake to
increase by the sum of six lakhs of rupees a year the subsidy of twelve lakhs now
granted to His Highness.
H. M. Durand,
Amir Abdur Rahman Khan.
Kabul, November 12, 1893.