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Surrounded By Foes

Pakistan, the world’s fifth-most populous country with a population of nearly 243 million, was born in 1947 after the Partition of the Indian Sub-continent by the colonial British rulers, who awarded separate statehood to the Muslim-majority regions. With the Partition, several enmities, bitterness and antagonistic bilateral relations, too, came into existence. Pakistan’s relations with neighbouring India have always been hostile. However, Islamabad has two more belligerent neighbours… Afghanistan and Iran. The relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have gradually become antagonistic.

Pakistan shares a 2,430km-long border, commonly known as Durand Line, with Afghanistan to its west. In fact, the Pakistani Provinces of Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are situated near the border with Afghanistan. The Durand Line is the origin of all the disputes between the two Islamic nations in South Asia.

After the Independence of India, Afghanistan emerged as the main enemy of Pakistan. It may be noted that Afghanistan was the only country to oppose the UN membership of Pakistan. As Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provinces of Pakistan near the Afghan border are mainly inhabited by Pashtuns, Kabul has never recognised these two provinces as Pakistani territories. According to the Afghan Government, these regions originally belonged to Afghanistan, and the Durand Line unfairly sent the area to Pakistan. The imperial British rulers had drawn the Durand Line between Afghanistan and British India on November 12, 1893 on the basis of an agreement with Afghan Amir (Emperor) Abdur Rahman Khan (1840/44 – October 1, 1901).

As the Afghans tasted defeat in the second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-79), they had no other option, but to accept the Durand Line, named after British Anglo-Indian diplomat Sir Henry Mortimer Durand (February 14, 1850 – June 8, 1924). However, the Afghans have never accepted this border demarcation. After the end of colonial British rule, Afghanistan and Pakistan got involved in a border dispute over the Durand Line. Later, various other issues, such as the presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and distribution of river water, widened the scope of this dispute. India, too, has gradually become one of the reasons for the deterioration of ties between Kabul and Islamabad, because of the former’s cordial ties with Afghanistan.

Pakistan experienced an armed separatist movement, led by Haji Mirzali Khan Wazir, immediately after its birth. As Kabul backed this movement, the bilateral relations deteriorated. Islamabad has always accused Kabul of supporting terrorism, and also of spreading terrorism inside Pakistan. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has repeatedly claimed that Pakistan interfered in its internal matters in order to create troubles for Kabul. Afghanistan has further blasted Pakistan for nurturing terrorists, and also for systematically using them against neighbouring countries. Earlier, Kabul strongly criticised Islamabad for supporting the Taliban. Interestingly, the Taliban-led Government in Kabul, too, does not accept the Durand Line, and refuses to recognise Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as parts of Pakistan.

A section of defence experts is of the opinion that the Afghan-Pak border is more turbulent and deadly than the Indo-Pak border. Soldiers of the two countries often exchange fire there. There is a hostile attitude towards Pakistan among the common people of Afghanistan. Similarly, the people of Pakistan do not like Afghan refugees. Even residents of the Pashtun-dominated areas in Pakistan are hostile to Afghan refugees.

Pakistan has made a serious attempt to improve ties with Afghanistan in recent times. In 2021, Islamabad provided Kabul with PKR 80 billion for the reconstruction of hospitals, schools, colleges, roads, etc. in the war-torn country. However, foreign policy experts have opined that the financial help might not improve the relationship between the two nations.

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