Pakistan Perennial Afghan Worry
With each passing day it is becoming increasingly obvious that the United States’ Afghanistan-Pakistan policy under President Barack Obama’s administration is simply not working. Secure in their safe sanctuaries in Pakistan’s Waziristan region, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have been launching highly successful attacks on Afghan and NATO troops.
On December 1, President Obama announced that he would send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in coming months. But, he has also vowed to start bringing American forces home in the middle of 2011, saying the United States could not afford and should not have to shoulder an open-ended commitment.
Promising that he could “bring this war to a successful conclusion,” Obama has set out a strategy that would seek to reverse Taliban gains in large parts of Afghanistan, better protect the Afghan people, increase the pressure on Afghanistan to build its own military capacity and a more effective government and step up attacks on Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
In his 33-minute address to the American people that day, Obama sought to convince an increasingly skeptical nation that the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the continued existence of Al-Qaeda across the border in Pakistan, what he called a “cancer” on the region, were direct threats to the United States.
He left much unsaid about Pakistan, where the main terrorists he is targetting are located, but where he can send no troops. Obama could not be very specific about his Pakistan strategy, since any overt American presence would only fuel anti-Americanism in a country that reacts sharply to every missile strike against extremists that kills civilians as well, and that fears the United States is plotting to run its government and seize its nuclear weapons.
At the same time, Obama is desperate for Pakistan to do something to contain these elements within its territory. In return, he is pursuing the traditional policy of rewarding Pakistan through military and economic assistance, which over the past seven years has exceeded US$ 12 billion. That Pakistan is not doing the needful and is diverting most of the US aid towards measures against India is another story.
In fact, the fundamental flaw in the US war on terror in Afghanistan happens to be the reliance on and belief in Pakistan. A stable and secure Afghanistan is not in the interest of the forces that run Pakistan today.
There are many reasons for this, including the so-called strategic depth that Afghanistan provides to Pakistan in its war against India. But most important is the fact that once Afghanistan becomes strong, secure and stable, it will demand the return of its territories, particularly Waziristan. And this is something Pakistan will not easily allow.
Waziristan covers an area of 11,585 square kilometres (4,473 square miles) and is divided into what are defined as North and South Waziristan agencies. The total population today is estimated to be around 1 million. The region is one of the most inaccessible, has an extremely rugged terrain and has remained outside the direct control of the Pakistani government.
The Wazir tribes, along with the Mehsuds and Dawars, inhabit the region and are fiercely independent. They did not bother the Pakistani government till the fall of the Taliban government in neighbouring Afghanistan, when the region became a sanctuary for fleeing Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements.
Endowed with a fierce sense of “individual independence,” the overwhelming majority of inhabitants in Waziristan do not consider themselves to be Pakistanis in any legal sense. But what they do not realise is that the Durand Line, which marks the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, has made them Pakistanis.
This line for them is artificial in every sense of the term. The other side of the line, which is Afghan territory, is as much their land as the Pakistani side. They have never seen or accepted any restrictions on their movements or those of their “guests” across the Durand Line, nor are they in a mood to accept such restrictions.
In fact, going by history and ethnicity, they have more affinity with the people of present-day Afghanistan than those in Pakistan. And most importantly, no government in Afghanistan has formally accepted Waziristan as part of Pakistan.
Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, who was foreign secretary in the colonial government of British India, signed a document with the king of Afghanistan Abdur Rahman Khan on November 12, 1893, relating to the borders between Afghanistan and modern-day Pakistan, which was then India. The international boundary line was named the Durand Line. However, no legislative body in Afghanistan has ever ratified the document and the border issue is an ongoing contention between the two countries.
The Durand Line, which runs though areas inhabited by the Pashtuns, was never accepted by either the Afghan government which signed it under duress or the Pashtuns who sought to create their own homeland called Pashtunistan.
In fact, in April 1919 during the Anglo-Afghan war, Afghan General Nadir Khan advanced to Thal in southern Waziristan to reclaim Afghan rights over the region. The area was recovered after a long fight in which many were killed by the British Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer.
Besides, Afghanistan’s loya jirga or political meetings of 1949 had declared the Durand Line invalid as they saw it as ex parte on their side, since British India had ceased to exist in 1947. It proclaimed that the Afghan government did not recognise the Durand Line as a legal boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This being the situation, every government in Islamabad, military and non-military, has desperately tried to reach a bilateral agreement with successive regimes in Kabul to convert the Durand Line into an international border, but without success. Even when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Pakistan, which aided and abetted the Taliban during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, expected, in vain, a favourable response.
Pakistan’s former Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider called for the revival of the sanctification of the Durand Line, as it had legally lapsed in 1993. It may be noted that the document between British India and Afghanistan was to remain in force for 100 years. But the Taliban regime ignored the Pakistani pleas.
Similarly, frequent press statements from 2005 to 2007 by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf calling for the building of a fence delineating the Afghanistan-Pakistan border met with resistance from numerous political parties in both countries.
Pashtun leaders on both sides of the border continue to ignore the Durand Line, while Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has been systematically avoiding the issue.
This explains why Pakistan will always want a dependent government in Kabul, which is more likely to ensure the de facto preservation of the lapsed and abrogated Durand Line even if it cannot be converted into an international border.
Of course, there is the added advantage of a Pakistan-dominated Afghanistan constituting forward strategic depth on Pakistan’s western flank vis-à-vis India; but that is a different matter altogether.
By Prakash Nanda