Pakistan-Afghanistan ties

Amna Malik

That the people to people contact between Pakistan and Afghanistan has always been considered as a means of linkage is more than obvious. This transnational nexus has always defied the existence of physical boundaries and divisions between both countries.
That the Afghans have always been granted help by Pakistan is more than evident in the case of housing thousands of refugees during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The lack of employment opportunities had also compelled many to seek their livelihood across the border. Being linked by an approximately 2,600km long boundary with landlocked Afghanistan, Pakistan has also served as its major trading partner with at least 80% of Afghanistan's trade depending upon neighbouring Pakistan.
This age old connection, however, has not been enough to enhance the bilateral relations between both countries, for which further steps and initiative ought to be taken by the respective governments. To reach the next level, there is a need to develop a joint pre-and post-conflict strategy, as both stand facing a direct blow from terrorism upon their respective territories. And the drawdown of the US forces from Afghanistan and its visible aftermath will be shared by both.
Both have borne the brunt of a war three decades back. As then, both will again be left alone to lick the wounds inflicted by this decade's long war, with a horde of extremist groups on their hands to de-radicalize and reintegrate into the society. That will be accompanied by colossal pressure from the international community and human rights organizations, for not doing enough. The reintegration process may take another decade to kick off, as things in the South Asian continent move with a painful slowness.
Pakistan has always been the one force behind the Afghan strength to fight both the Soviets and the terrorists; without Pakistani help, where Afghanistan would be is something that Afghanistan needs to ponder upon.
Construction of Gwadar port would not only benefit Pakistan but also Afghanistan, as it would reinforce the link between Afghanistan and the outside world. It needs Pakistan's help for the continuity and success of the war against those elements that are common enemies of both the countries. This issue needs immediate attention of both the countries. They should try to remove all suspicions in their mutual relationship.
In the case of the refugee issue, both the countries should work for the safe return and rehabilitation of the Afghans residing in Pakistan, for decades. Afghanistan can also seek support of Pakistan in its reconstruction pursuits.
The proposed natural gas pipeline of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan is highly dependent upon the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The proposed gas pipeline would start from the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan border region in southeastern Turkmenistan, to Multan, Pakistan, with an extension to India, comprising 400 miles. The project was estimated to cost US$ 2.9 billion for the segment to Pakistan and an additional US$ 600 million for the extension to India. Both the countries should realize that this pipeline would not only bring peace and prosperity, but a significant development in their relationship as well. A commentator on Pak-Afghan relations stated that the pipeline would be offering a much-needed financial boost to war-devastated Afghanistan in terms of a transit fee. It was further stated that despite various security repercussions, once the Afghans start realizing the meaningful economic benefits in terms of jobs and huge transit fees, they would themselves be ensuring the pipeline's safety.
In addition, Pakistan also needs Afghanistan's strategic support to neutralize increased Indian diplomatic activities in Afghanistan. The latter can also assist in checking cross-border infiltrations which damages development and infrastructure in the two frontier provinces of Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
Together both the countries can fight effectively and resolutely against drug trafficking, which is one of the common social issues faced by Pakistan and Afghanistan. They can jointly guard and monitor the international border to stop this illegal trade.
The event of 9/11 compelled Pakistan to pursue an anti-Taliban policy that Pakistan had been supporting politically and diplomatically since the 1990s. Pakistan committed itself to fight the global war against terrorism and to reconstruct war-ravaged Afghanistan. It actively participated and mustered support during and after the donor conferences aimed to rebuild Afghanistan. Pakistan deployed more than 80,000 troops to stop alleged infiltrators crossing into Afghan territory. However, in the long run this cooperation on terrorism had mixed practical results. Key Afghan officials in Kabul have been pointing fingers at Pakistan for some time, accusing it of turning a blind eye to cross-border terrorism targeting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces and the Afghan central government.
While there have been encouraging recent developments between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Pakistan's suspicion of India threatens to entrench relations of conflict and competition at the expense of cooperation and stability. There are several ways to read India's current engagement with Afghanistan. Since the overthrow of the Taliban, India has invested heavily in renewing its ties with Afghanistan. At present, India is the largest regional donor to Afghanistan's reconstruction, having offered several billion since 2001.
India's growing involvement in Afghanistan can be seen as advancing more specific strategic goals. For one, Afghanistan is geographically positioned to serve as a viable access route for energy coming from Central Asia. One of India's major infrastructure initiatives has been to construct a highway linking Afghanistan's ring road to Iranian ports on the Persian Gulf. This highway could effectively reduce, if not eliminate, Afghanistan's current dependence, as a land-locked state, on Pakistan for sea access.
Also, India's involvement in Afghanistan can be seen as an effort to displace, or counterbalance, Pakistan's influence in the country, which some elements within Afghanistan welcome. India has strong ties to the Northern Alliance. Many of its leaders were educated in India, including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. As India's power in Afghanistan expands, especially its soft power, Pakistan is losing its position of economic and strategic privilege. Facing it is a power with hostile intentions against it. For example, India's consulates in Afghanistan are according to Pakistan's intelligence reports, involved in covert activity that works in fomenting separatist movements in Pakistan.
Against this backdrop, it should be realized that Pakistan and Afghanistan have unquestionable significance for each other. Geostrategic, political, economic and other reasons make it imperative for both the countries to have cordial relations. Establishing cordial relations between these two can contribute a lot in making this strategically important region prosperous, besides defeating and removing many ills being faced by the two South Asian countries. But such a prospect would be neutralized by foreign power intervention, if the leadership of both the countries remain unable to tackle the outstanding issues in their bilateral relationship. The role of any such external elements have to be coped with in order to avoid jeopardizing of their short and long term interests. The destiny of Afghanistan to prosperity is linked with Pakistan.