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Foreign Relations - Afghanistan

Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan, its Muslim neighbor to the northwest, have never been easy. Pakistan's boundary with Afghanistan is about 2,250 kilometers long. In the north, it runs along the ridges of the Hindu Kush (meaning Hindu Killer) mountains and the Pamirs, where a narrow strip of Afghan territory called the Wakhan Corridor extends between Pakistan and Tajikistan. The Hindu Kush was traditionally regarded as the last northwestern outpost where Hindus could venture in safety.

In 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand negotiated an agreement with Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan to fix an only partially surveyed line (the Durand Line) running from Chitral to Balochistan to designate the areas of influence for the Afghans and the British. Each party pledged not to interfere in each other's lands. This agreement brought under British domination territory and peoples that had not yet been conquered and would become the source of much difficulty between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the future.

When Pakistan was admitted to the UN, only Afghanistan cast a negative vote, the result of Afghanistan's refusal to accept the Durand Line as its border with Pakistan. The Durand Line was not in doubt when Pakistan became independent in 1947, although its legitimacy was in later years disputed periodically by the Afghan government as well as by Pakhtun tribes straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

On the one hand, Afghanistan claimed that the Durand Line had been imposed by a stronger power upon a weaker one. On the other hand, Pakistan, as the legatee of the British in the region, insisted on the legality and permanence of the boundary. This border divides the Pakhtu or Pashto-speaking people of the region. Afghanistan promoted secessionist movements among the Pakhtuns in Pakistan, calling for the creation of an independent Pashtunistan or Pakhtunistan or, alternatively, for Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province to join Afghanistan.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, however, had a profound effect on Pakistan's geopolitical situation. Pakistan became a frontline state in the Cold War. Altogether more than 3 million Afghan refugees fled to Pakistan, and the country became a base for mujahidin fighting against the Soviet forces and the Afghan communists. Pakistan also became a conduit for military assistance by the United States and others to the mujahidin.

The refugee burden, even if offset in part by foreign assistance, created dangerous pressures within Pakistani society. Afghan and Soviet forces conducted raids against mujahidin bases inside Pakistan, and a campaign of terror bombings and sabotage in Pakistan's cities, guided by Afghan intelligence agents, caused hundreds of casualties. In 1987 some 90 percent of the 777 terrorist incidents recorded worldwide took place in Pakistan. The actual danger to Pakistan, however, was probably never very great.

After the Soviet Union completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, warfare continued between the mujahidin and the Afghan communist government in Kabul. The demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, however, resulted in a reassessment of Pakistan's foreign policy, particularly in light of the sweeping restructuring of central and southwest Asia. The Afghan resistance had been unable to unseat the Kabul regime. The heavy burden of the Afghan refugees continued, and Pakistan wanted to be in a position to establish linkages with the newly emerging Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. Pakistan decided in early 1992 to press for a political settlement. The communist government in Kabul was ousted in May 1992 and replaced by a fragile coalition of various mujahidin factions. But the coalition did not include the most radical of the Islamist mujahidin leaders, Gulbaddin Hikmatyar.

In March 1993, the government of Nawaz Sharif brokered an agreement between President Burhanuddin Rabbani of Afghanistan and Hikmatyar, Rabbani's longtime enemy, to share power in Afghanistan for eighteen months and then hold elections. Under the agreement, Rabbani would remain president, Hikmatyar would become prime minister, and they would choose government ministers together. A cease-fire was also to be implemented. It remains, however, for the agreement to be ratified by the leaders of all Muslim groups involved in the war. In 1994 fighting between mujahidin groups escalated in Kabul, and a new flood of refugees moved toward the Pakistani border.

Continued turmoil in Afghanistan prevented the refugees from returning to their country. In 1999, more than 1.2 million registered Afghan refugees remained in Pakistan. Pakistan was one of three countries to recognize the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. International pressure after September 11, 2001, prompted Pakistan to reassess its relations with the Taliban regime and support the U.S. and international coalition in Operation Enduring Freedom to remove the Taliban from power. Pakistan has publicly expressed its support to Afghanistan's President Karzai and has pledged $100 million toward Afghanistan's reconstruction. Both nations are also working to strengthen cooperation and coordination along their shared rugged border.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2013 18:52:38 ZULU