The Future Of Pak-Afghan Relations Once The United States Finally Pulls Out

Future Of Pak-Afghan Relations
Source: Pak Institute For Peace Studies

“Sovereign states are defined by borders, and Afghanistan, being a sovereign and independent state, should accept its defined border to uphold its sovereignty and prevent interference,” writes Amina Khan in Pak Afghan Border: A Case Study of Border Management (Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad).

17 years, $1 trillion and countless deaths later – the US pull-out from Afghanistan finally seems eminent.

Read: Why Imran Khan’s Minister For Parliamentary Affairs Brig. (R) Ijaz Shah Is A Misfit In The Federal Cabinet

However, once the United States pulls out, it will raises the inevitable question of whether Pakistan hits reset on its relations with Afghanistan or resumes with the same differences which were on pause since 2001?

For the millennials unaware of the pre-Musharraf era, if simply put: the two countries were engaged in an extremely dysfunctional marriage.

The central issue as known, revolved around the Durand Line, which is presently being unilaterally fenced from the Pakistani side.

The Durand line was a result of intense negotiations in 1894 between King Abdur Rehman and Sir Henry Mortimer Durand – after whom the border got named.

While Pakistan has always considered it as the official western border, Afghan governments have successively rejected the line, declaring the pact only between Afghanistan and British India, and not Pakistan. Pakistan however, has asserted that since it is a successor state of the British India, thus has a rightful claim to the region.

“In Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban or Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) have profited from the situation. Those groups have used the safe confines of South Waziristan in the last four years to expand their presence,” inks Brad L Basseur in Recognizing the Durand Line (2011 The EastWest Institute, New York), in reference to the non-existent border management between the two states.

Following Zarb-e-Azb, the border fencing was initiated by the Pakistan Army in mid-2017. According to recent stats, 802km out of 1,200km in phase one, ‘pri 1 areas’, has been completed of the $550 million project. The second phase, ‘pri 2 areas’, will be starting soon and the project as a whole is forecasted closure by December 2019.

Pak-Afghan fencing should not be confounded with the infamous “build a wall”. While the primary objective seems synonymous, ground realities check out differently. “The wall” is centered around hate speech, and is currently a political debate; fencing is unanimously supported by the Pakistanis. The premise behind the fence is basic – stop illicit border crossing, curb illegal trade, eliminate safe havens enjoyed by anti-state elements and thwart any foreign sponsored militancy fund from entering the country.

Read: Lessons We Can Learn From New Zealand On How To Treat Minorities

“The Pakistani government, according to World Bank figures, supposedly lost over $80 billion in revenue from 2001 to 2018 because of smuggling,” comments Khalid in Smuggling Effects in Pakistan Economy (All Pakistani News). While speaking with a World Bank official, “On my visit to Kabul, I noticed many Pakistani manufactured products, most of which I presume were illegally brought into the country,” he said. Pakistan currently possesses a trade potential of 37 Billion USD, of which Afghanistan shares a solid part.

“Peace is the natural effect of trade,” motioned French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu, one which is rarely ever contested by economists. “While the illegal trade raises the cost for conducting legal economic activities, it also weakens states, threatens development opportunities, undermines the rule of law and keeps countries trapped in a cycle of poverty and instability,” Dr. Mohammad Zubair Khan (Pakistan-Afghanistan Cooperation On Trade, ISS Islamabad).

Benefits of a peaceful Pak-Afghan corridor will not just be barred to the two countries, but will connect the region to central Asian countries as well. Pakistan could potentially become a consumer of CASA-1000 with a developed Central Asia South Asia Regional Electricity Market – easing the ever increasing energy demand which jeopardize the Pakistani industry as we speak. Bilateral relations will further give boost to non-existent cooperation which might turn the region into a significant player globally in a few decades.

If US withdraws from the Afghan land – the party that premiers Afghanistan will be the one which acquires immediate cross-border support.

Afghanistan is to Pakistan what East-Pakistan was to India. Without wise foreign policy, the already crippled and disjointed country will suffer even more. One thing for certain is, the new Afghanistan will have to adhere to the Durand line as the official border. It will have to cease its support for the Pashtunistan movement, will have to turn towards talks to resolve issues rather than bullets. The fact that Ahmad Ali Massoud – a man of peace – is running for president is good news for both the countries.

As an eighteen-year-old, who has always witnessed the word “peace” antonymous to Afghanistan – it seems like an exciting time for peace to actually prosper.

I hope there comes a day when the Pakistani National Cricket team flips a coin in-front of a Kabul crowd, a day where the Pakistani Rupee gets accepted by roadside vendors in Kandahar and Afghanistan’s Afghani in Islamabad’s cafes. I look forward to a time when I can drive up to Torkham, get a stamp and go all the way to Turkmenistan undisturbed. For a dreamer like me, life is tough – but these dreams are something I choose to continue living for.