Afghanistan and Pakistan are two inter-connected, interdependent two brotherly Muslim neighboring countries. For centuries, the people of the two countries have remained tied together through bonds of common culture, ethnicity, religion, history, and geography.
The 2,670-kilometer-long Pakistan-Afghanistan border traverses through an area with around 60 million Pashtuns living on both sides of the border called the Durand line drawn by the British colonial government in 1893 about 130 years before the emergence of Pakistan on the world map. The towns of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, and erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, now part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have a deep-rooted cultural commonality and linkages with bordering provinces in eastern Afghanistan. Similarly, Balochistan’s vast stretches have a close affinity with Kandahar and other population centers in southern Afghanistan. The people in the border areas share their tribal roots. The commonalities, however, extend beyond ethnicity. More than 85 percent of the population in the two countries profess Sunni Islam.
Afghanistan’s geography and strategic importance
Afghanistan sits at the heart of Central Asia, at the meeting point of ancient trade routes – known together as “The Silk Road” – that goes out to all parts of Asia. Some lead east to China; some north to the great cities of Bokhara, Samarkand, and Khiva, and then to the nomadic steppe; some southeast into India; and others east into Iran, which then lead to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe. Afghanistan has been at the heart of networks: a roundabout, a place of meetings, civilizations, religions, cultures, and, of course, armies and traders, and pilgrims. Centuries on, Afghanistan enjoys the same status as the principal connector of the North and South and the East and West. One Western poet from the 19th century, James Elroy Flecker, summed up this view by describing the way eastwards as “The Golden Road.”
Pakistan is blessed with about a 1046 km coastal belt with a deep sea fort at Gwader, the mighty Indus River system, and some of the world’s largest glaciers, its strategic location, gateway to Central Asia, nuclear capabilities, and role in regional security and stability. Additionally, its economic significance, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and potential energy resources, adds to its importance on the global stage. Pakistan is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia with China as its neighbor in the north, India in the east, and Iran and Afghanistan in the west. Thus its strategic location allows Pakistan to become an important trade, energy, and transport corridor.
Both countries, Located at the confluence of great mountains and with a turbulent history, the Pakistan-Afghanistan region was once referred to as the “cockpit of Asia” by Lord Curzon. Geography has placed the region at the crossroads of global and regional politics, strategic and particularly economic interests for the last two centuries, as a potential conduit for rail, road, and energy routes (the oil/gas pipelines of Central Asia).
Regardless of whoever rules Afghanistan and Pakistan, both countries have always been turbulent Relationship since the beginning due to the controversial stance on their shared 2670 km Durand line, earlier porous but now fenced by Pakistan in the face of opposition by the Afghan government irrespective of who is in power, particularly the Taliban earlier government led by late Mullah Muhammad Umer, later on after Bone conference, Afghan democratic governments led by former Presidents Hamid Karzai, Abdul Ghani and now again Taliban government lead by Amir Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada from unknown location.
Pakistan’s strategic planners may have hoped that with the Afghan Taliban’s return to power, the problem would be resolved. Instead, it has worsened. A close analysis of the whole situation reveals that Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy since the beginning is based on misperceptions due to its colonial history. Pakistan has followed the footprints of the foreign policies of former colonial masters, ” installing pro-government in Kabul ” coupled with containment policies of the US in the region- have always been proven counterproductive, particularly, strategic depth- Lunching of Afghan jihadi project-through proxies had been a failure since the 1990s when the Afghans’ bitter wrangling about the implementation of the Peshawar and Makkah accords soon after the withdrawal of former Soviet Union forces from Afghanistan in 1990 and after 9/11 2001, war on terror-good and bad Taliban policies of late General Mushraf military regime, till the Hastily military withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, in August 2021 and Pakistan’s rule in the return of Afghan Taliban again in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, both, Afghanistan and Pakistan have chronic constitutional, political, economic, and social problems followed by ethnic, linguistic, sectarian, and tribal fault lines in their social and governance structures. Their horizontal power structures-Pashtoon-dominated elites with junior partners like Tajak, Uzbeks, and Hazaras in Kabul run Afghanistan, and Punjabi-dominated elites of Lahore in Islamabad with its junior partners like Pashtoon, Sindhis Baluchs, and others ruling Pakistan. Both country’s elite classes, provided for continued power struggles and conflicts within conflicts in their internal and external affairs. Consequently, their vulnerable economies and weak political, social structures, and conflict-prone geopolitical environment coupled with their geo-strategic and economic importance have offered opportunities to their neighbor and international players, the US and former Soviet Union in the Cold War era and now China and the US, to intervene to their advantage since their independence in 1747 and 1947 respectively.
The following options are available for amicable solutions to their outstanding issues
First option. The first and foremost option available for both countries for the amicable solution of all their outstanding political, geographical, social, and economic issues is; to live within the framework of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence, which are: 1) mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, 2) mutual non-aggression, 3) non- interference in each other’s internal affairs, 4) equality and mutual benefit, and 5) peaceful coexistence.
The core of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence is that there is sovereign equality among all countries and that no country should monopolize international affairs. These principles offer a powerful intellectual tool for developing countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan to uphold their sovereignty and independence, and they have thus become a rallying call for enhancing solidarity, cooperation, and strength among them.
Coexistence promises that it provides a needed pause from violence, and a springboard into stronger, more respectful inter-group relationships. a living together in peace rather than in constant hostility. If we are to live together in peace, we must come to know each other better. Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be kept by understanding.
This formula worked successfully when In 1954, India and China despite their border issues like Pakistan and Afghanistan or Pakistan and India, enunciated the Panchsheel, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Further, During the Cold War the Former Soviet Union and China despite their controversies, developed the concept of peaceful coexistence as a mechanism for communist states to coexist with capitalist states and, in the case of China, with regional powers.
Second option. Sayings of the great poet Allamah Muhammad Iqbal are more relevant if converted into action by both the nations, who realized the importance of Afghanistan well before the birth of Pakistan, in the region – on which the stability of Asia depended – his famous saying:
Asia is a body of water and clay,
Of which the Afghan nation forms the heart.
The whole of Asia is corrupt,
If the heart is corrupt,
Its decline is the decline of Asia;
Its rise is the rise of Asia,
The body is free only as long as the heart is free,
The heart dies with hatred but lives with faith.
In the wake of its importance and love with Afghans and Afghanistan, On the invitation of King Nadir Shah of Afghanistan in 1933, he visited the country to help with the founding of Kabul University and to advise on the country’s education system. Allama Iqbal entered Afghanistan via the historic Khyber Pass and arrived in Kabul in late October 1933. Iqbal described Kabul as ‘a paradise-like piece of territory, whose breeze is more pleasant than that of Shaam (Syria) and Rum (Roman Empire).’
Moreover, Afghanistan provided the tombstones for the tomb of the Great Khushal Khan Khattak Baba in Pakhtunkhwa and the tomb of Allama Iqbal in Lahore. Iqbal’s tombstone is also a testament to the love that Afghans had for him.
The love and spirit of Allama Iqbal, the five principles of peaceful coexistence, are more relevant, needed, and obligatory in both neighboring countries in the wake of a recent standoff on the issues of a resurgence of terrorist activities in Pakistan particularly in two provinces Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. The statements of the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff followed by Foreign and Defense Ministers blaming TTP for carrying out those terrorist activities from the soil of Afghanistan and warning the Taliban interim government of grave consequences and the Taliban’s state of denial approach of using their territory by the TTP and describing it internal security reasons of Pakistan, brought bout both the countries at the verge of war but shortly good sense prevailed upon the Afghan leadership soon after the visit of special representative of Pakistan former ambassador Asif Durrani to Kabul and provision of credible evidence in this regard. Consequently, the spiritual leadership of Afghanistan Haibatuulah Akhunzada from an unknown location and Defence Minister Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob called armed activists outside Afghanistan territory against the spirit of Islam and Jihad. Though these developments have brought a temporary pause in tension between the two governments the long-term solution for peaceful and brotherly relations lies in working on and implementing two options stated earlier
The Taliban have returned to power as a fait accompli beyond any doubt, though they are defacto rulers and lack legitimacy within the country and abroad and full military control on their territory. It can be argued they won through a political deal rather than on the battlefield and faced possible resistance by Afghans and threats from new stakeholders such as the IS-K. It is doubtful if they can ever stabilize Afghanistan and implement the Duha agreement in its true spirit particularly respect for human rights, women’s access to higher education, etc.
Taliban must learn from their past and should not repeat the mistakes and shortcomings in their first phase of governance in the late 1990s specifically concerning Osama bin Ladin and now on the issue of TTP. They should not spoil the second opportunity of ruling Afghanistan after losing a lot of blood and treasure during twenty years of armed struggle against foreign occupation.
On the other hand, Pakistan stands at 76 years old but facing one of the worst kinds of economic meltdown, domestic, external, and natural threats coupled with political uncertainty with regard to forthcoming general elections. Pakistan’s demographic, ecological, economic, political, social, and external trends depict that the country may see huge political turmoil, economic meltdown, social disintegration, terrorism, and ethnic conflicts in the near future due to a host of reasons. Some are deeply routed in history and some are the results of the ruling elite’s continued denial of ground realities.
In the wake of such grim challenges, the only option available for both countries is, to create a conducive environment for establishing brotherly relations and living in peace and tranquillity with each other are; to work within the framework of five principles of peaceful coexistence and act upon the advice of great poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal and work on four principles of nonviolence. They should bury the past, forget the bitter memories and the repression of history in their relations and move forward by diverting all their energies and resources toward the betterment of their public life rather than engaging in another unwanted conflict.