| Gripping tale
Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan is in turmoil. Islamabad’s diplomatic mission in Kabul has been closed after a mob attacked it last week. There is public anger at General Pervez Musharraf for saying that the Hamid Karzai government does not adequately represent all ethnic communities and that there is a power vacuum in Afghanistan.
There have been clashes in the region around the Durand Line even though Pakistan continues to deny that these have taken place inside Afghan territory. Kabul believes that Pakistan is using American concerns about terrorism to encroach on Afghan territory.
General Musharraf’s public criticism of the Karzai government in Paris prompted retaliation from the Afghan president that “Pakistan must stretch its legs according to its bed.” In a hard-hitting speech on July 6 in Kabul, Karzai reminded his neighbours of the commitment made in the Kabul Declaration that they would not intervene in each other’s affairs.
In simple words dripping with bitterness and anger, Karzai said, “If someone trains a snake or a scorpion against me, they cannot assume to be safe from its harm. As they say ‘cha kan dar cha ast’ (the well-digger ends up in the well). The well that was dug for Afghanistan can swallow the region.”
“No one will lose in making friends with Afghanistan. This is my promise,” Karzai said. But to those who insisted on interfering in its internal affairs, Karzai read out a couplet: “If you are in doubt about my Afghan valour/ You will know it when you face me in the battle.” Clearly, this was deeply hurt Afghan pride speaking.
Islamabad should be disturbed at the attack on its embassy on July 8, when its diplomats had to hide in the basement of the building to keep out of harm’s way. This was the fourth time in 15 years that Afghans have ransacked the Pakistan Embassy. The last was in 1996, when demonstrators linked to the Tajik Northern Alliance set it on fire to protest Islamabad’s support for the taliban.
But this time around the attack was led by Pashtuns. Most of them were, apparently, sympathizers of the Afghan Millat Party. Its president, Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady, is the governor of the Afghan Central Bank.
It is too early to say whether the Pashtun nationalism exhibited in the recent confrontations is growing out of a broader Afghan nationalism taking shape. But there are old grudges against Pakistan that may have been fanned by the recent developments — especially the incursions across the Durand Line and growing reports of taliban consolidation in Pakistan.
Pashtun nationalism covers all Pashtun inhabited regions straddling the Durand Line that divides Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Afghans never recognized the Durand Line. This border was seen as a challenge to Pashtun nationalism for the better part of the last century.
The Durand Line came into being in 1893, when Amir Abdul Rahman and the then foreign secretary of India, Sir Mortimer Durand, came to an agreement about the respective areas of influence of the amir and British India. This was a partially unsurveyed line, drawn with a green felt-tipped pen across the map, running some 1,200 miles from Chitral to Baluchistan, across Pashtun-inhabited areas. The agreement was to be valid for a hundred years and come to an end in 1993.
However, within years of agreeing to it, Amir Abdul Rahman wrote in his autobiography that he never considered any Pashtun areas permanently ceded to the British. The Afghan position since then has been that the Durand Line was imposed by a stronger partner over a weaker one. In fact, such were the emotions over the boundary that Afghanistan’s was the sole vote against Pakistan’s entry into the United Nations in 1947.
In March 1955, Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul was ransacked for the first time. Afghans feared that the Pashtun areas on the other side of the Durand Line were being integrated into Pakistan in a firmer manner by Ayub Khan. In 1961, emotions in Afghanistan were so inflamed over the demand for Pashtunistan (a state integrating Pashtun areas on both sides of the Durand Line) that Pakistan itself had to order closure of its diplomatic missions.
In this context, if Afghan claims of Pakistani ingress into their territory are correct, then the question is why is Islamabad opening up old wounds' Is it Islamabad’s way of telling the Karzai government that it still matters and has the power to destabilize Afghanistan' Or, could it be that in the name of chasing terrorists, incursions across the Durand Line are being made in order to force Kabul to define its eastern frontier' This might explain why when Kabul complains of its frontiers being breached, Islamabad denies the charge — hoping to compel Afghanistan to define where the border lies.
Besides the alleged military incursions across the Durand Line, the Afghans know that the forces that seek to destabilize their country are based in Pakistan. It is an open secret that the defeated taliban are still safely cocooned in Pakistan.
Although Islamabad claims that it has arrested over 400 taliban and al Qaida suspects since September11, 2001, taliban ministers and commanders like Mullah Obedullah, Mullah Biradar, Jalalauddin Haqqani and Mullah Dadullah have found safe haven in its tribal areas. Mullah Obedullah, the second in command of the ousted taliban government — according to the Governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha Sherzai — lives in Quetta in Pakistan.
The governor of Ghazni province, Haji Assadullah, told Reuters last Friday that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (an old time Pakistani favourite and head of the Islamic radical party, Hizb-e-Islami) and two commanders of the ousted taliban — Jalaluddin Haqqani and Saifur Rahman — met in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border and were planning assaults on Wardak and Ghazni provinces southwest of Kabul and on the southeastern Paktika, Paktia and Khost provinces.
Pakistan had sought strategic depth in Afghanistan by installing a client regime there. Military analysts claim that strategic depth makes sense only as an area to retreat and regroup to fight another day. However, that is what the taliban and others opposed to the Hamid Karzai regime seem to be doing in Pakistan now. Instead of Pakistan finding strategic depth in Afghanistan, it is the remnants of the ousted taliban regime which have found strategic depth in Pakistan.
More than in the military sense of the term, the taliban have gained ideological strategic depth in Pakistan. This is evident in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal assuming power in the two provinces bordering Afghanistan — Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province. All the illiberal ideas of the taliban — from imposition of Shariat laws, segregation of girls and boys in school education to tearing down advertisement hoardings showing women — are being put into practice by the MMA.
Pakistan has become the ideological sanctuary of the taliban ideology ousted from Afghanistan. This is already harming Pakistani polity and civil society. However, the Pakistani establishment does not seem to have made up its mind to give up the policy of destabilizing the nascent government of Afghanistan. The Afghans clearly resent this and have shown their anger most vividly in the last fortnight.