Wednesday, 30 July 2003

PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN: WHAT LIES AHEAD?

Published in Analytical Articles

By Rizwan Zeb (7/30/2003 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: The growing distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan rose to its peak on 9 July, when a mob attacked and destroyed the Pakistani embassy in Kabul. Kabul alleges Islamabad is supporting Taliban elements and that these Taliban remnants are crossing freely into sanctuaries on Pakistan’s side of the tribal area. Recently Pakistani paramilitary personnel and an Afghan militia exchanged fire on the Mohmand Agency border, when the latter claimed that Pakistani forces had entered their territory.
BACKGROUND: The growing distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan rose to its peak on 9 July, when a mob attacked and destroyed the Pakistani embassy in Kabul. Kabul alleges Islamabad is supporting Taliban elements and that these Taliban remnants are crossing freely into sanctuaries on Pakistan’s side of the tribal area. Recently Pakistani paramilitary personnel and an Afghan militia exchanged fire on the Mohmand Agency border, when the latter claimed that Pakistani forces had entered their territory. Later an Afghan government official claimed that Pakistan Army troops deployed in the Mohmand Agency had penetrated 46 kilometers deep into Afghan territory. Tensions were aflame further when President Hamid Karzai reacted to president Musharraf’s remarks regarding the writ of his regime and the ethnic imbalance in the Afghan government. His reaction resulted in an anti-Pakistan demonstration. The Pakistani ambassador, realizing the worsening situation, asked the authorities to provide adequate security to the Pakistani embassy based in Kabul. On July 9, the fear turned into reality when a 500-strong mob, armed with a truckload of stones, sticks and weapons, attacked the embassy. They were in fact part of a protest led by the Afghan Millat Party leader and governor of the Central Bank, Anwar ul Haq, against alleged Pakistani incursions into Afghan territory. The staff at the embassy had to hide in the basement to save themselves. The mob attacked, ransacked and destroyed almost everything they could get hold of, including burning the Pakistani flag. The Pakistani Ambassador, soon after the incident, while talking to the journalists blamed the Afghan government and demanded an apology from Kabul. He stated that the mission would remain closed until the Afghan government compensates, apologizes, and gives concrete guarantees for its security. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, while reacting to the incident said that the host government was obliged under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations to protect diplomatic missions, property and personnel. Later President Hamid Karzai, in an attempt at damage control, apologized to President Musharraf for the attack on the embassy. He also said, “I have never given any statement against you or Pakistan” and “I was misquoted”. He also assured the Pakistani President that his government would provide full protection and security to the Pakistan embassy and its staff in Kabul and other diplomatic staff in its consulates in other cities as well. Later, during a press conference he said, “I strongly, strongly, strongly condemn this action”. “Those who committed this act are not the enemies of Pakistan, they are the enemies of Afghanistan, peace in Afghanistan, and they are enemies of friendship between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

IMPLICATIONS: The incident is most likely to have far-reaching implications not only for Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, but also for the American campaign against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the region, if the souring of Pakistani-Afghan relations continues. Islamabad in fact chose to react moderately. The Pakistani foreign minister said that incidents like this are unhelpful to the efforts on both governments to have a model relationship, further adding that Pakistan attached great importance to its close relations with Afghanistan. “We support the Bonn process and the Karzai government. Pakistan’s desire to maintain friendly relations with Afghanistan remain unimpaired”, he declared. He also hoped that the Afghan government would take measures to punish those responsible and provide complete security to the staff of Pakistan embassy in future so that incidents like this would not occur again. A tragic aspect is that this incident could have been easily prevented. The Kabul government could have done more especially when the Pakistani ambassador, alarmed at the July 6 speech by the Afghan President, notified the Afghan authorities that such a demonstration was expected and that adequate security measures must be taken, which was not done. These recent developments are basically due to the distrust that exists between Islamabad and the Northern Alliance and the issue of the Durand Line. Pakistan army’s operation in the Mohmand Agency was aimed at securing the area and sealing the border so that the so-called cross-border movements could be checked. This is exactly what Kabul has been demanding since the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda began. But now that it is done, those who have been profiting from the illicit cross-border traffic are claiming that Pakistan has intruded into Afghan territory . Islamabad has repeatedly denied the allegation and has said that it fully respects the Pakistan-Afghan border and its troops have not violated Durand Line at any point. “Pakistan fully respects the Pak-Afghan border and its troops have nowhere violated the Durand Line”, Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan said recently. One has to understand that the dominant power in Kabul, the Northern Alliance leadership, is staunchly anti-Pakistan.

CONCLUSIONS: It is high time that all parties involved realized the need to solve the problem. Most importantly, the issue of border demarcation has to be resolved. Afghanistan is a very important country for Pakistan and the people at the helm in Islamabad are fully aware of it. Islamabad has to engage the Northern Alliance leadership and work out a detailed strategy to protect its vital interests in Afghanistan. But Afghanistan also has to do its part, and understand that Pakistan is too important a country for the future development of Afghanistan to have bad relations with. Above all, as noted by many analysts, a great problem is the Afghan commanders on the Pak-Afghan border who are known to have a stake in souring relations between the two countries and profiting from illicit cross-border traffic. As long as they are not replaced, tensions are unlikely to end. The United States is the only power that has significant influence over both Afghanistan and Pakistan to solve their problems through negotiation. The reopening of the Pakistan embassy after two weeks and the visit of the Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmed Jalai to hold “structured talks” with his Pakistani counterparts on the recent hostility between the two countries was indeed a step in the right direction, but this effort will prove fruitless if the distrust which is there between the two remains. As Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee once remarked: “A country cannot change its neighbor.”

AUTHOR’S BIO: The author is Islamabad based Security Analyst and is currently working on a book on Pakistan Central Asia Relations.

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