An Ironical Brotherhood
Imagine that you have a brother who has been part of the family since time immemorial. He shares your religion, your cultural values, your geography and lives right next door. You both love growing crops – when he plants wheat, you do the same. You both use natural gas and water to power your homes. You both join the same local trade clubs. You sell most of your surplus produce to your brother, who buys it with open arms. You’re both corrupt in the same ways and face the same daunting neighborhood problems from the same local felons. Oh, so much love and fraternity, eh? Apparently, not so much if the two brothers are Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Back in 1947, when Pakistan broke free from the shambles of British rule, the world saw a natural, inevitably robust alliance between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They were described as inseparable states, with their common heritage and religion closely knitting them together. But what essentially impedes a brotherhood so destined to be successful?
The Durand Line between the two countries is only a de facto border, as neither country has agreed to sit down and decisively trace out one consensual demarcation. In the past, Afghanistan has fiercely defended its rights over ‘Pashtunistan’, arguing that a large part of Pakistani territory has been carved out of what should be Afghan territory. The Afghans pointed towards the unjust British colonization of those areas a long time ago (force majeure) and how those areas should have been first offered to Afghanistan, once independent. In recent years, the multitude of other problems has overshadowed this issue, but neither country has changed its stance and the border continues to hamper cordial relations.
The ISI is seen by Afghanistan in a very negative light. Being a major advocate of the Taliban in the past, Afghanistan strongly believes that the ISI still sponsors and aids terrorism on its soil. Both countries are involved in a ‘blame game’, which has snowballed into fierce political tension. Apparently, Afghanistan made its point when Osama Bin Laden was captured in open Pakistani territory rather than Afghani mountainous areas, where he was initially suspected of being.
Border skirmishes are tied to a dubiously crafted border with both sides blaming each other for violations. The highly porous border allows insurgents to stroll into whichever country they feel like visiting. And when security forces take action against them, there are always heated brawls over civilian casualties and respect of a country’s sovereignty. 2011 was a year of diplomatic spat. In July 2011, hundreds of Afghanis protested over Pakistani rocket shelling across the border. Similarly, a few months later, hundreds of people in Peshawar voiced their anger towards Afghani inaction against Taliban border infiltration into Pakistan.
“Trace it back to the Afghan War in the 80’s, how the beautiful land of Afghanistan became war ridden, thanks to the interference of Russia, and further Pakistan via the USA- hence having a key role for completely robbing a nation of its paradisiacal lands. The War on Terror, the state-sponsored terrorism and the attacks on embassies on Afghani soil have all widened the gulf that exists between the two states”, says Humza Jami, an experienced debater.
Since its inception, the alliance has been clearly plagued with mistrust, skepticism, verbal sparring and political stand-offs.
On July 9 2012,Pakistan declared itself to be the biggest stakeholder in post-2014 Afghanistan, but this highly unilateral statement has no bearing unless Afghanistan is willing to play along with the brother it despises so much. Then, you might wonder – if not Pakistan, then who? For Afghanistan, the answer is none other than beloved India – a ‘brother country’ according to the Afghan Foreign Ministry in 2008!
“As far as the status quo is concerned, it’ll be highly unlikely that Pakistan could maintain a ‘safe’ presence in Afghanistan following the US withdrawal, considering how Russia, China, and now India are breathing on their necks to establish a stronghold. Afghanistan has been waiting anxiously for some regional help to be extended, in some friendly form or another. India comes like the brother of the boyfriend who used to shoo you away and nails a deal with you, and it is only after this deal that the previous boyfriend realizes your importance”, adds Humza.
India has played a key role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, pledging about 2 billion dollars of support in 2011, making it Afghanistan’s largest provider of humanitarian and economic aid! India has provided relentless assistance to the Afghan economy- from air links and power plants to health and education, which has made it Afghanistan’s personal favorite. India has also nurtured the supply of electricity, oil and gas while even providing Afghani students scholarships.
India has even drafted a strategic partnership with Afghanistan (October 2011), which highlights the high level of trust and understanding the two countries share. You can always see the smiling faces of Manmohan Singh and Hamid Karzai as they shake hands, a sight which is far rarer when it comes to President Zardari and President Karzai. Both countries take pleasure in rebuking Pakistan due its negligence and complicity with terrorists. Together, both these countries, one form the east and one from the west, enjoy squeezing the Pakistani neighbor they dislike so much.
Keeping the ideas above in mind, the Afghan-India alliance isn’t as ironic as it may seem. International relations are based more on practical economic assistance and political support rather than just cultural heritage and religious roots, a fact that Pakistan has yet to understand! India has done everything that the common man would expect Pakistan to do. In one room, Afghani and Indian diplomats sign trade and commerce deals, while in the other, Pakistani and Afghani diplomats still bicker over petty border issues. It is high time the two nations realize that they are sailing in the same boat.
The way forward is that Pakistan must take an initiative and strengthen ties with Afghanistan instead of constantly complaining about Indian interference. The Indians have established a bond with Afghanistan, which is unlikely to die soon. Pakistan must accept the ground realities and live up to its claims of being a major stakeholder in post-2014 Afghanistan, and potentially revive the brotherhood that once existed.
Last week, we discussed the event of the NATO supply blockade by Pakistan, as a protest against the killing of 24 Pak soldiers, and the reluctant US Apology to Pakistan that followed the particular chain of events. You can read that and more in The Diplomat.