Afghan-Pakistan ‘Frenemity:’ A Tangled Relationship

By Adnan Qaiser 18 April 2020

In this fourth paper among a five-part study on Afghanistan, Adnan Qaiser, with a distinguished career in the armed forces and international diplomacy, discusses the geopolitics, interdependence and preoccupation of neighbouring Pakistan in Afghanistan’s affairs that have resulted into a historic animosity between the two “brotherly Muslim” countries

You may find other study-papers here:

Part-I: ‘Sayonara’ Afghanistan? A Distant Goodbye

Part-II: Kaput Afghanistan: A ‘Rentier’ and Failed State

Part-III: Afghan Civil War 2.0: Return of Revenge

Part-V: NATO’s ‘White Man’s Burden:’ Fighting an Alien War in Afghanistan

Pakistan has turned out to be the biggest winner in the U.S.-Taliban peace-deal saga.[1] Islamabad has greatly suffered at the hands of a “frenemy” (friendly-enemy) in Kabul, when successive Afghan regimes not only harboured Baloch insurgents and their leaders,[2] but also provided sanctuaries and safe-havens to Pakistan’s bête noire,the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).[3] TTP not only carried-out terrorist activities in Pakistan but also became India’s proxy to cause unrest and subversion in Pakistan.[4]

Despite the two Afghan presidents, Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, having remained dependent upon Islamabad (and Rawalpindi’s)[5] goodwill for their rule, both kept slating Pakistan for harbouring the Taliban. Since a pro-Indian,[6] non-Pashtun at ‘Arg’ (Afghan presidential palace) did not suit Islamabad’s strategic interests[7] both presidents exploited their Pashtun credentials fully with Pakistan.

A Baggage of History – ‘Frenemies’ (Friendly-Enemies)

Owing to its concerned outlook (referred above) and a friendly disposition (discussed below) towards Afghanistan, Pakistan has played a key role in its neighbours security and wellbeing.[8] However, the baggage of historic “great game” between the British India and the Russian Empire does not allow the two Muslim countries become normal friends. Pakistan has been often blamed for following an “ambiguous” and “duplicitous” policy on Afghanistan. However, the accusation forgets the fact that it had been Afghanistan only, which had voted against the creation of Pakistan in August 1947. Moreover, successive Afghan governments and their intelligence agencies have sheltered anti-Pakistan terror-groups on the Afghan soil.[9]

Furthermore, celebrating a Pashtunistan Day every year on 31st August,[10] almost all Afghan governments continue to reject the Durand Line[11] (a 2336km long international border) between the two countries. Claiming Pakistan’s Pashtun areas in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the Afghan regimes have been illegally paying stipends – called Maliki or Lungi allowance, a tradition instituted by the British – to the Maliks (tribal elders) in Pakistan’s erstwhile seven tribal agencies (now integrated in mainstream country).[12]

In his book The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier, eminent journalist, Imtiaz Gul records: “Soon after the defeat of the Taliban and the retreat of Al Qaeda to Pakistani tribal areas in December 2001, the Waziristan region was flush with money. This newfound affluence was very obvious. The new Afghan government, led by President Hamid Karzai, resumed the payment of stipends to ethnic tribal elders. These stipends, which had for many years been paid by Afghan rulers to select local tribal elders as “goodwill” gestures, effectively prevented them from making trouble in Afghanistan.”[13]

Thus, an out of the blue emerged Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) – ostensibly defending the Pashtun rights in Pakistan’s tribal areas[14] but essentially berating and foul-mouthing Pakistan Army – found its patronage in President Ghani.[15] Especially invited to attend Mr. Ghani’s oath-taking ceremony in March 2020, to Islamabad’s chagrin, such devious backing to Pakistan-bashers by the highest political leadership of Afghanistan demonstrates massive undercurrents of animosity and hatred between the establishments of the two countries.[16]

Pakistan has further been blamed for seeking a so-called “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.[17] In view of India’s historic enmity against Pakistan (owing to their outstanding territorial disputes since subcontinent’s partition in August 1947), Indian forces have always tried to cut Pakistan into two halves at Rahim Yar Khan on the Grand Trunk Road during the two wars in 1965 and 1971.[18] Thus, the idea of strategic depth originated after the Soviet defeat in Afghan jihad in 1989 to “absorb” an Indian offensive owing to Pakistan’s narrow geographical depth. The concept dates back to the 1960s, when during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, allowed Pakistani fighter jets to use Iranian bases at Zahedan and Mehrabad for refuelling purposes and kept as strategic reserves.[19] Islamabad has thus, endeavoured to maintain friendly relations with Kabul to keep its western border peaceful with an option to preserve some of Pakistan’s “strategic reserves” for counteroffensive purposes. However, with the introduction of nuclear deterrence and strategic stability in South Asia in May 1998, the idea of strategic depth became redundant and obsolete.[20]

Sardar Daoud’s hostility towards Pakistan, especially after his bloodless coup on 17 July 1973, removing his cousin Mohammad Zahir Shah from the Afghan monarchy with the Soviet backing, compelled Pakistan to begin supporting Afghan mujahedeen since 1975.[21] Later, Pakistan’s role as a frontline state during Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union granted Pakistan a major stakeholder status in Afghan affairs.[22] Pakistan has not only housed millions of Afghan refugees – from over three million during 1980s to 1.6 million now – but also hosts thousands of Afghans for their trade, work and medical related visits on daily basis.[23]

A peaceful Afghanistan has, therefore, remained Pakistan’s necessity as well as priority. Pakistan’s former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s reaffirmation about “Kabul [being] more important to Pakistan than Washington”[24] had been duly acknowledged by former U.S. Senator John Kerry, when he stated: Pakistan remains central to what happens in Afghanistan.[25]

That’s why despite having brokered Peshawar Accord[26] (on 26 April 1992) and Islamabad Accord[27] (on 7 March 1993) for power-sharing among seven warring Mujahedeen groups, the Afghan civil war[28] constrained Islamabad to extend its support to the Taliban. Lindsay Maizland and Zachary Laub, document in Council on Foreign Relations’ backgrounder titled The Taliban in Afghanistan: “The Taliban was formed in the early 1990s by Afghan mujahedeen, or Islamic guerilla fighters, who had resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979–89) with the covert backing of the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). They were joined by younger Pashtun tribesmen who studied in Pakistani madrassas, or seminaries; taliban is Pashto for “students.”[29] Having nurtured the Taliban since 1994 and being one of the three countries, which had recognized the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001,[30] Pakistan quite naturally protected the ‘Haqqanis[31] as well as the ‘Quetta Shura.’[32]

Pakistan’s fault, however, lied in its support for the Islamist Pashtun groups while ignoring – and alienating – the nationalist parties belonging to other ethnicities like Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, considering them to be more inclined towards India. Bruce Riedel notes in his scholarship, What We Won: America’s Secret War in Afghanistan 1979-89, among the four Islamist and three traditionalist mujahedeen groups, “Pakistan preferred the Pashtun parties and the more radical Islamist warlords like Hekmatyar.” The groups included: 1) Hezb-i-Islami of Gulbadin Hekmatyar; 2) Jamiat-e-Islami headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani; 3) Ittihad-i-Islam Bara-i-Azadi Afghanistan led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf; 4) Hezb-i-Islami (Younis Khalis Group) of Maulana Younis Khalis; 5) Mahaz-i-Milli-i-Islami headed by Sayyid Ahmad Gailani; 6) Jabha-i-Nijat-i-Milli of Sebghatullah Mujadidi; and 7) Harkat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami led by Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi.[33]

Despite (belatedly) changing its Pashtun-centric outlook[34] and instead of seeking a “friendly government” in Kabul,[35] Islamabad began striving for an inclusive and stable political dispensation in Kabul since 2012.[36] However, Islamabad’s India-fixation does not end,[37] owing to India’s attempt to encircle Pakistan through its strategic relations with Iran and Afghanistan.[38] In his book War Against the Taliban: Why it All Went Wrong in Afghanistan British journalist Sandy Gall notes: “The policy of [seeking] “strategic depth[39] [in Afghanistan] is the key to understanding Pakistan’s Weltanschauung … [P]ersuading India to compromise on Kashmir … [could make] Pakistan to abandon its out-and-out support for the Taliban.”[40]

Pakistan’s Taliban Weltanschauung

In his 2013’s book The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, New York Times’ national security correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner, Mark Mazzetti recounted a conversation of Pakistan’s head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed with a military analyst. Upon pointing out that Pakistan’s Taliban policy was hurting the country’s standing among other nations, the general scolded the analyst by saying, “The Taliban is the future of Afghanistan.”[41] Mazzetti continues narrating that upon his return from Afghanistan seeking a compromise between the Taliban and other warring ethnicities like Tajiks and Uzbeks of the Northern Alliance, the spy chief “implored [then] American ambassador Wendy Chamberlin not to start a war out of revenge. A true victory in Afghanistan, Ahmed said, would come only by negotiating. ‘If the Taliban are eliminated,” he said, “Afghanistan will revert to warlordism.’”[42]

Such a stance has always informed Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan, in general, and the Taliban, in particular. The U.S.-Taliban peace-deal of February 2020 has validated Pakistan’s persistent standpoint about the non-viability of a military success in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s patience and perseverance in pushing for a political solution[43] – and reflected in author’s nearly two dozen Afghan analyses – has thus, finally paid-off.[44]

Vali Nasr, senior adviser to the former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, narrates in his book The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat that on a visit to the White House in 2010, Pakistan’s former army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani gave a thirteen-page strategic non-paper to President Obama that effectively said: “You are not going to win the war and you are not going to transform Afghanistan. This place has devoured empires before you; it will defy you as well. Stop your grandiose plans and let’s get practical, sit down, and discuss how you will leave and what is an end state, we can both live with.”[45] Putting across Pakistan’s formula for a stable Afghanistan, General Kayani further tried to convince his NATO counterparts about their bleak chances of success in Afghanistan through a twelve-page classified document titled, “Ten Years Since 9/11: Our Collective Experience (Pakistan’s Perspective),” at NATO’s tenth anniversary of 9/11.[46]

Renowned Indian defence analyst, Praveen Swami, highlights Pakistan’s pre-eminence in the Afghan war quoting George Tenet, former Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) chief from Steve Coll’s book Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. George Tenet held his argument: “The enemy is Al Qaeda; we need Pakistan’s army and ISI to dismantle Al Qaeda; and Pakistan’s stability and interests are at least as important to the United States as Afghanistan’s recovery from Taliban rule.” Coll further records General Kayani’s assurance to President Karzai: “We can help you sort out the insurgency, we can turn it off”. In exchange, Pakistan would expect an end to Indian influence in Afghanistan.[47]

Pakistan has always been blamed for supporting the Taliban, since the rag-tag militia took-over Kabul in 1996. ISI has been credited for the little resistance the fighters faced – when during the Afghan civil war they first established their control over Kandahar in 1994, followed by capturing Ghazi and Herat in 1995; and ultimately seizing Kabul by 1996. Sometimes called “Pakistan’s fifth province[48] former ISI’s head, Lt. Gen. (Ret’d) Hamid Gul often proclaimed, “It takes an Afghanistan to make an ISI.”[49]

Thus, when CNN’s Fareed Zakaria called the Pakistan Army the “godfather” of the Taliban and saw the Western counterinsurgency efforts going in vain owing to “the rebels hav[ing] a nuclear-armed sponsor” in his views in The Washington Post in October 2015,[50] he forgot the adage: One man’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.

Critics of Pakistan’s Afghan policy, blaming the country for allegedly providing sanctuaries and safe-havens to the Taliban have always missed a few fundamentals of Pakistan-Afghan relationship:

1) Despite its harsh and loathsome practices, the Taliban has remained an integral part of Afghan ethos and its social fabric. The Afghan populace moored to Islamic tenets and nationalistic pride had found its antidote in the stability brought by the patriotic sons of soil

2) Belonging to the country’s 60 percent Pashtun population, the Taliban enjoyed widespread grassroots support in the rural areas

3) Although not meeting the international human and fundamental rights standards, Taliban’s enforcement of sharia law provided the poor people quick, easy and inexpensive justice – as against successive corrupt, inefficient and avaricious Afghan governments[51]

4) Both countries have remained bound in historical and robust linkages of ethnic bonding, cultural commonality, religious correlation, economic interdependence and geographical connectivity

5) Rightly or wrongly, nationalist groups always receive outside support during ethnic conflicts. India, for instance, supported the Mukhti Bahnis in Bangladesh (1971);[52] and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka (1987 to 1990);[53] the international community supported the Malayo-Polynesans in East Timor (1975 to 2002);[54] as well as the Bosniaks in Bosnia Herzegovina (1992 to 1995);[55] while the Christian community in South Sudan (2005 to 2011) received United Nations backing.[56]

6) Finally, national interests of countries are blind and brutal. When Pakistan alleges its archrival India using the Afghan soil as a launch-pad for terror and subversive activities in the country, Islamabad reserves the right to not only strive for a friendly government in Kabul but also not lose any sleep at what it does internally to its people[57]

“Enemies since Birth” – Afghan-Pakistan Animosity

Amid souring of his relations with Islamabad,[58] President Hamid Karzai’s signing of Security and Trade Agreement with New Delhi on 4 October 2011 added much to Pakistan’s consternation.[59] Despite describing the two countries as “conjoined twins” Pak-Afghan historic mistrust and animosity grew many-fold under Mr. Karzai.[60] Historian William Dalrymple called the two countries “enemies since birth” for a reason.[61]

Mr. Karzai’s heated exchanges – and frequent melt-downs – with Pakistan’s president General Pervez Musharraf had been no secret.[62] At one point, Musharraf blamed Karzai for behaving “like an ostrich,” and refusing to acknowledge the truth just to shore up his political standing at home. Trading barbs at each other publicly forced President Bush to invite them at the White House on 28 September 2008 to give an earful. Emphasizing “the need to cooperate, [and] to make sure that people have got a hopeful future” in both countries, Mr. Bush appealed to the bickering presidents to put aside their differences and “strategize together” on how to defeat terrorism.[63]

President Karzai’s verbal brawls with Pakistan’s military leadership remained the order of the day during his rule. At the president’s insistence to deliver Taliban’s emir, Mullah Omar, during a trilateral summit with Iran on 18 February 2012, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar had to reproach the demand as “not only unrealistic but preposterous,”[64] emphasising the “need to have some hard talk” with the president.

Mr. Karzai’s sudden anti-Pakistan demeanour had, in fact, surprised the Pakistani authorities. Having lived comfortably in Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta with a thriving family business on ISI’s stipend during the Afghan jihad and civil-war, the Afghan leader, midwife by the Bonn Agreement of December 2001,[65] remained an irritant for Pakistan Army, inviting frequent reprimands.[66] Hamid Karzai, who had become a leader by a stroke of luck at Bonn, remained obstinate and uncompromising.[67] His undiplomatic and provocative statements often incensed Islamabad, calling him the “the biggest impediment to the peace process.” At his snide remark of “external forces acting in the name of Taliban,” an exasperated Islamabad saw him “a joker in the pack[68] … [who was] taking Afghanistan straight to hell.”[69]

At the tail end of his tenure, a largely “isolated” president who made several enemies vainly tried to appear nationalistic and shed his personification of an “American lackey.”[70] A Pakistani diplomat once described President Karzai as “a man of contrasting moods and utterances. Grovelling at America’s feet one day and going for Washington’s jugular the next; cooing at Pakistan and snarling in the same breadth; hating the Taliban and then declaring he wished to join them; a democrat and also an autocrat; secular when it suits him and theologically doctrinaire when he senses the need; a feminist in New York and a misogynist in Riyadh. It all depends who he is talking to and what works best [for him] at the time.”

President Ashraf Ghani, on the other hand, remained infuriated at Pakistan for allegedly granting the Taliban safe-havens and introducing a new border crossing system in June 2016.[71]  The president had been particularly vexed by Islamabad’s border-fencing of the 2336km long Durand Line to stop the infiltration of terrorist TTP into Pakistan.[72] The regulatory transit mechanisms put in place by Islamabad to streamline the flow of Afghan people into Pakistan, running into thousands on daily basis,[73] remains a bone of contention between the two capitals. Kabul’s denial of the Durand Line and its continued protestation at the new border-crossing system led to frequent border closures and fire exchanges between the border-guards of the two countries.[74] Despite a U.S. brokered hotline (between the two countries’ director-generals military operations) to settle their bilateral disputes amicably,[75] troops and armour from both sides keep facing-off – and killing – each other, intermittently.[76]

Intoxicated with power, the politicians, however, should not forget their dispensability. Similar to the untraceable assassinations of leaders like Rafiq Hariri in Lebanon and General Zia-ul-Haq and Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, politicians must not turn their opponents into enemies. Since life has a strange way of presenting its bill; Karzai and Ghani may too receive their checks with the departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Pakistan-U.S. Divergence and Distrust on Afghanistan

In a chapter titled Security and Politics in Pre-transition Afghanistan from the book Afghanistan in Transition: Crafting a Strategy for Enduring Stability, Brookings Institution’s senior fellow, Vanda Felbab-Brown observes Pakistan’s post-war Afghan predicament in these words: “Pakistan in particular will be ensnared in Afghanistan’s troubles. Ten years after 9/11 Pakistan continues to be preoccupied with India’s ascendance and its perceived ambitions in Afghanistan and deeply distrustful of U.S. objectives there. This distrust has preceded the U.S. raid into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden: at a fundamental level, Pakistan still sees its national security objectives as at odds with those of the United States, while its polity is more anti-American than ever. It is suspect of U.S. ultimate goals in Afghanistan and fearful of a U.S. plot to seize its nuclear weapons, which it sees as the crux of its security with respect to the conventionally-superior India.”

The author continues noting: “Moreover, Pakistan also doubts the ability of the United States to establish a secure government in Afghanistan, especially one that will not be hostile to Pakistan. So it pursues cultivating allies in Afghanistan, mainly among the Taliban factions, as a protection policy. Pakistan continues to see a pro-Pakistan or at least a not-pro-India government in Kabul as critical for its security. Consequently, it persists in its links and manipulation of the Taliban insurgencies for its purposes, whether on the battlefield or in the developing negotiations between Kabul, the United States, and the Taliban.”[77]

While Kabul and Washington kept blaming the ISI for supporting the Taliban[78] and providing sanctuaries to its supreme leadership council (Quetta Shura)[79] and Haqqani command council,[80] Islamabad safeguarded its strategic interests in Afghanistan. At one stage, a frustrated former U.S. Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen designated the Haqqani network as ISI’s “veritable arm.”[81] Islamabad, however, absorbed the criticism patiently and deftly – firmly rejecting the idea of Pakistan becoming a “scapegoat” for failures in Afghanistan.[82] As Washington’s tolerance came to a head, then C.I.A.’s chief, Mike Pompeo warned Islamabad to “destroy safe havens” in Pakistan[83] and Pentagon threatened to take “unilateral steps in areas of divergence.”[84] Islamabad responded by refusing to allow[85] anyone to “fight the Afghan war on Pakistani soil” – a reference to cross-border strikes and hot pursuit attacks.[86]

Pakistan faced an internal dilemma too, when people started seeing Islamabad’s cooperation and intelligence sharing with Washington in the “war-on-terror” as an “American War.”[87] In the aftermath of several incidents the people of Pakistani turned against their ally of past seven decades,[88] with PEW research survey finding anti-Americanism rising up to 74 percent by June 2012:[89]

1) First of all, despite designated as a “major non-NATO ally” in the war-on-terror in March 2004,[90] Pakistan remained a victim of intensive U.S. drone-strikes.[91] Along with 414 drone-strikes between 2004 and 2018,[92] U.S. forces also carried out at least 24 cross-border attacks in Pakistani territory, causing intense misery, fear and civilian casualties to Pakistan[93]

2) Then in January 2011, an American contractor, Raymond Davis, working for the C.I.A shot-dead two Pakistani motorcyclists in broad daylight on a crowded road, further straining Pakistan-U.S. relations[94]

4) Subsequent to Raymond Davis case, the ISI threatened to pull-out of “Tri-Star Intelligence Sharing Pact,” if C.I.A. did not provide it with the whereabouts of 438 U.S. operatives and 1,079 contractors in Pakistan.[95] Enraging the ISI, the American intelligence claimed to have lost them

5) Later, the U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden, which Islamabad claimed to have been carried out without its knowledge or consent, in Abbottabad in May 2011, added to further tensions between the two countries[96]

6) Finally, a cross-border attack by NATO forces at a Pakistani check-post at Salala killed 24 soldiers including two officers on 26 November 2011. Stopping NATO’s Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) through Pakistan,[97] an infuriated Islamabad called the strike as an “unprovoked, deliberate and pre-planned blatant act of aggression.[98]

While boasting to have arrested over 400 al-Qaeda terrorists on its soil,[99] Islamabad also (exaggeratedly) claims to have lost some 62,096 innocent lives (in the 15-year period between 2002 and 2017) and damaged its economy by US$123.13 billion in the U.S. war on terror.[100] However, a Brown University’s report found Pakistan to have lost only 23,372 lives[101] and received US$33.4 billion as civil and military aid and assistance, including Coalition Support Fund, (monies reimbursed for services rendered in support of operations in Afghanistan) between 2002 and 2016.[102]

Thus, since Pakistan remains one of the biggest beneficiaries of peace in Afghanistan, it was not surprising for Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa to underscore: “The path to regional stability and peace passes through Afghanistan.”[103] Viewing the criticality of Pakistan’s role in the implantation of U.S.-Taliban deal, U.S. CENTCOM chief, General McKenzie admitted: Pakistan’s “support has been very important in directing the Taliban to come to negotiations and their continued support is going to be very important as we go to this difficult period of deciding is the Taliban actually serious about this and they are going to live up to their commitments.”[104]

Pakistan’s India Disquiet

Afghanistan’s historic rentier mindset (discussed in detail in previous chapters) has made it look towards foreign countries for financial, political, and military support.[105] Despite President Ghani vociferously pledging not to allow proxy wars on Afghan soil,[106] Afghanistan remained an arena of regional Buzkashi (goat-grabbing game) owing to its strategic geographical location.[107]

India remains Pakistan’s another bête noire in Afghanistan. Claiming to have a 126km long contiguous border with Afghanistan – at Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan area – India keeps offending Pakistan’s sensibilities.[108] Taking a cue from Kautilya, when the Hindu war-strategist (350-283 BCE) defined one of the dictums of his Chankaya doctrine as, “The enemy, however strong he may be, becomes vulnerable to harassment and destruction when he is squeezed between the conqueror and his allies” (Arthashastra, Verse 6.2.40),[109] India has kept Pakistan preoccupied at its western border through successive hostile Afghan governments, when their intelligence agencies overlooked India’s subversive activities in Pakistan by proxies.

In his scholarship My Enemy’s Enemy: India in Afghanistan from the Soviet Invasion to the US Withdrawal, Avinash Paliwal gives a detailed account of how India has been exploiting its longstanding ties and strategic interests in Afghanistan for destabilizing Pakistan. Quoting India’s former foreign secretary, Lalit Mansingh (1999 to 2001), Paliwal gives New Delhi’s Islamabad outlook and admission: “As Pakistan increasingly became our problem, Afghanistan emerged as kind of a counter-balance. To keep Pakistan on its toes, friendly relations with Afghanistan, which always created a kind of anxiety in Pakistan, were kept up.”[110]

Bringing into focus the endgame[111] and a new great game[112] that surround the geopolitics in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, historian William Darymple has already warned of the “danger of an escalating conflict between the two nuclear powers that could threaten the world peace.”[113] In his epic Brookings essay titled A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India,[114] Darymple quoted the Indian consul-general in Kandahar meeting with the dissident Baloch leaders in the presence of agents from Indian intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).[115] Even former U.S. defence secretary Chuck Hagel had noted in 2011: “India has always used Afghanistan as a second front. And India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border. And you can carry that into many dimensions.”[116]


As a benevolent neighbour, Pakistan has long provided shelter to the Afghan refugees. The country, has also granted a transit trade facility to Afghanistan besides facilitating work and medical related visits of Afghans on daily basis. However, it has always been viewed with suspicion and antagonism. It is in Pakistan’s strategic interest to have peace at its western border and a strong government that doesn’t allow terror-groups like TTP to find sanctuaries on Afghan soil and create unrest across the Durand Line. However, the historic misgivings among the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities in Afghan, especially their strong linkages with Pakistan’s archrival India, does not – and would not – allow Islamabad to grant stability to Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.

Despite Pakistan changing its outlook towards the smaller Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities, the non-Pashtun ethnicities did not respond positively to Islamabad’s overtures for a reset in relations.[117] Meanwhile, India’s investment in Afghan infrastructure to the tune of nearly US$3 billion in the past two decades,[118] its close affinity with former Northern Alliance communities and Indian intelligence’s intimate relations with the National Directorate of Security (NDS) keep adding to Islamabad’s trepidation.

Notwithstanding Pakistani officials’ disquiet on the suggestion, Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Michael Kugelman rightly viewed, “As a nation, Pakistan is better off with its Afghan neighbor at peace. But Islamabad would derive strategic benefits from an Afghanistan that remains at war, because its Taliban partner only gets stronger and India’s ability to operate there is diminished.”[119]

Since territories don’t grow feet and walk away; unless a malign Kabul changes its attitude to become benign towards Islamabad, Afghanistan will remain insecure and chaotic.

Adnan Qaiser can be reached at


[1] Afghan conflict: US and Taliban sign deal to end 18-year war, BBC News, 29 Feb 2020

[2] Declan Walsh, WikiLeaks cables reveal Afghan-Pakistani row over fugitive rebel, The Guardian, 30 Nov 2010

[3] The Tehrik-i-Taliban is the largest militant organization in Pakistan that operates under the larger umbrella of the Pakistani Taliban. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Centre for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University; See also: Hassan Abbas, A Profile of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Jan 2008

[4] Charles Tiefer, A Proxy War Between India and Pakistan is Under Way in Afghanistan, Forbes, 13 Aug 2016

[5] Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters and its premier Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are said to control Pakistan’s Afghan policy. General Headquarters, Pakistan Army

[6] India and Afghanistan sign security and trade pact, by Rama Lakshmi, The Washington Post, 4 Oct 2011

[7] Kabul more important for Pakistan than Washington, Pakistan Today, 12 Aug 2012

[8] Bruce Riedel, Pakistan’s Role in the Afghanistan War’s Outcome, Brookings Institution, 20 May 2010

[9] Michael Georgy and Matthew Green, Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of backing Taliban enemy, Reuters, 5 Aug 2012

[10] Ron Synovitz, Afghanistan: ‘Pashtunistan’ Issues Linger Behind Afghan-Pakistani Row, Radio Free Europe, 24 Mar 2006

[11] It is time for Kabul to accept the legality of the border. Arwin Rahi, Why the Durand Line Matters, The Diplomat, 21 Feb 2014

[12] Ron Synovitz, Afghanistan: ‘Pashtunistan’ Issues Linger Behind Afghan-Pakistani Row, Radio Free Europe, 24 Mar 2006

[13] Imtiaz Gul, The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier, Viking, Penguin Group, 2009, pp. 24 and 51; Also see: e-book:

[14] Madiha Afzal, Why is Pakistan’s military repressing a huge, nonviolent Pashtun protest movement?, Brookings Institution, 7 Feb 2020

[15] PTM leader thanks Afghan president for what Pakistan condemns as ‘gross interference’, The Express Tribune, 7 Feb 2019

[16] Saad Hasan, Is Afghanistan trying to use Pakhtuns against Pakistan? TRT World, 11 Mar 2020

[17] Anand Arni and Abhimanyu Tondon, The Genesis of Pakistan’s “Strategic Depth” in Afghanistan, Fair Observer, 2 Jun 2014; Also see for the military concept: Lt Col Khalid Masood Khan, The strategic depth concept, The Nation, 16 Oct 2015

[18] A timeline of the rocky relationship between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours. Asad Hashim, Timeline: India-Pakistan relations, Al-Jazeera, 1 Mar 2019

[19] Pervez Hoodbhoy, The Bomb: Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan The Express Tribune, 22 Jan 2012; Also see: Pakistan Armed Forces, Middle Eastern Countries, Wikipedia

[20] Report, Rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India portend regional and global catastrophe, Science Advances, Vol. 5, no. 10, eaay5478, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay5478, 2 Oct 2019; PDF Report:

[21] Ron Synovitz, Afghanistan: History Of 1973 Coup Sheds Light On Relations With Pakistan, Radio Free Europe, 18 Jun 2003

[22] Thomas E. Ricks, Riedel: The war against the Soviets in Afghanistan was run by Zia, not by us, Foreign Policy, 14 Jul 2014

[23] Afghanistan’s refugees: forty years of dispossession, Amnesty International, 20 June 2019

[24] Kabul more important for Pakistan than Washington’, Pakistan Today, Aug 12, 2012

[25] (Senator John) Kerry Statement on Nomination of Ambassadors to Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 31 Jul 2012

[26] Peshawar Accord, April 24, 1992; Also See: War in Afghanistan, Global Conflict Tracker, Council on Foreign Relations, 3 Apr 2020

[27] Islamabad Accord (7 March 1993), Wikipedia

[28] David Isby, Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires, A New History of the Borderland, Chapter One, Afghanistan: A Country Defined by Conflicts, Pegasus Books, 2010, p. 21

[29] Lindsay Maizland and Zachary Laub, The Taliban in Afghanistan, Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, 11 Mar 2020

[30] Press Trust Of India, ISI engaged in helping Taliban: Former CIA Official, The Indian Express, 06 Jun 2013

[31] Haqqani Network, Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, Updated: 8 Nov 2017

[32] Hussain Nadim, The quiet rise of the Quetta Shura, Foreign Policy, 14 Aug 2012

[33] Bruce Riedel, What We Won: America’s Secret War in Afghanistan 1979-89, Brookings Institutions Press, 2014, pp. 43 and 48; Also see Author’s Book Review: Adnan Qaiser, What We Won: America’s Secret War in Afghanistan 1979-89, Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s On Track magazine, Autumn Edition 2015, Page 52, Oct 2015

[34] Pakistan’s new engagement in efforts to find a peaceful end to the conflict in Afghanistan has been received with optimism in the West. Daud Khattak, For Pakistan, a change of heart in Afghanistan?, Foreign Policy, 17 Dec 2012

[35] Anita Joshua, No favourites for post-2014 Kabul: Khar, The Hindu, 30 Nov 2012

[36] Jinnah Institute’s Report, Sherry launches endgame report on Afghanistan, The News, 27 Aug 2011

[37] Pakistani foreign policy elite expressed their views in a report published by Jinnah Institute on the endgame in Afghanistan and Pakistan s stakes in light of the same. The report titled “Pakistan, the United States and the Endgame in Afghanistan: Perceptions of Pakistan s Foreign Policy Elite” was launched in an event that was attended by leading policy experts, legislators, academics, media persons and civil society members. The report was written jointly by Jinnah Institute and United States Institute of Peace. Sherry launches endgame report on Afghanistan, The News, 27 Aug 2011

[38] Iran, India, Afghanistan sign transit accord on Chabahar port, Dawn, 23 May 2016

[39] Lt Gen Asad Durrani (Retd), Pakistan’s Concept of Strategic Depth, CLAWS Article No. 1487, and also see: Strategic Depth, Center for Land Warfare Studies, No. 310-1002, 6 Feb 2020

[40] Sandy Gall, War Against the Taliban: Why it all Went Wrong in Afghanistan, Bloomsbury Publishing (2012) pp. 347-348

[41] Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Penguin Press, New York, 2013, p. 28

[42] Ibid, p. 32

[43] Daniel Serwer, A Political Solution to the Afghan War, The Atlantic, 7 Jul 2011

[44] Adnan Qaiser (Author), Linked In Profile and List of Publications, Linked In, March 2020

[45] Vali Nasr, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, Doubleday (2013), p. 11

[46] Steve Coll, What Does Pakistan Want? The New Yorker, 28 Mar 2012

[47] Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Penguin Press, new York, 2018, pp. 757; See also: Book review by Praveen Swami, How Directorate S, ISI’s most diabolical branch, outsmarted US in Kabul, continued subverting India, The Print, 24 Feb 2018

[48] Rabia Mehmood, ‘Afghanistan is not your fifth province’, The Express Tribune, 23 Dec 2011

[49] Shahzada Irfan Ahmed, “It takes an Afghanistan to make an ISI,” Lt. Gen. (r) Hameed Gul, former ISI chief, Special Report, The Role of Intelligence Agencies, The News (Sunday), 25 July 2010 and

[50] Fareed Zakaria, The key to solving the puzzle of Afghanistan is Pakistan, The Washington Post, 8 Oct 2015

[51] Gregg Carlstrom, Afghanistan’s governance problem, Al-Jazeera, 29 Aug 2010

[52] (1) Indian forces fought along Mukti Bahini: Modi, The News, 8 Jun 2015; See also (2): Sarmila Bose, Myth-busting the Bangladesh war of 1971, Al-Jazeera, 9 May 2011; and (3) Dr. Farrukh Saleem, Mukti Bahini, the forgotten terrorists, The News, 14 Mar 2016

[53] FACTBOX-India’s role in Sri Lanka’s civil war, Reuters, 17 Oct 2008; See also: John F. Burns, The Rebels In Sri Lanka Find Allies In India, The New York Times, 24 Sept 1995

[54] (1) Rhoda Margesson Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy Bruce Vaughn Specialist in Asian Affairs, East Timor: Political Dynamics, Development, and International Involvement, U.S. Congressional Research Service, 7-5700 RL33994, June 17, 2009; See also (2) East Timor’s road to independence – achieved on 20 May 2002 – was long and traumatic. The people of the first new nation of the century suffered some of the worst atrocities of modern times in their struggle for self-determination. When their Portuguese colonial masters withdrew in 1975, Indonesia claimed the territory for itself and ruthlessly suppressed the independence movement. Eventually the UN took over the administration and supervised the territory’s transition to independence. East Timor country profile, BBC News, 26 Feb 2018; Also see (3): David Webster, Canada’s East Timor advocacy 20 years ago paves the way for leadership today, The Conversation, 28 Aug 2019; See also (4): East Timor profile – Timeline, BBC News, 26 Feb 2018; and (5) David Webster, 15 Years After Independence, Whatever Happened to East Timor? Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada, 18 Jul 2017

[55] (1) CHRONOLOGY-What happened during the war in Bosnia?, Reuters, 21 Jul 2008; Also see (2) David Rohde, Why Did Ratko Mladic Commit Genocide Against Bosnia’s Muslims? The New Yorker, 26 Nov 2017; See also (3) Murtaza Hussain, From El Paso to Sarajevo: How White Nationalists Have Been Inspired by the Genocide of Muslims in Bosnia, The Intercept, 1 Sept 2019; And also see (4) Ivo H. Daalder, Decision to Intervene: How the War in Bosnia Ended, Brookings Institution, 1 Dec 1998

[56] (1) South Sudan Fast Facts, CNN Editorial Research, 8 Mar 2020; Also see (2): Armin Rosen, South Sudan Struggles With Independence, The Atlantic, 26 Mar 2012; And see also (3) African Union blames US, UK, Norway for South Sudan civil war – leak, RT, 6 Mar 2015

[57] Zachary Constantino, The India-Pakistan Rivalry in Afghanistan, Special Report No. 462, United States Institute for Peace, Jan 2020

[58] Joshua Partlow, Karzai accuses Pakistan of supporting terrorists, The Washington Post, 3 Oct 2011

[59] Rama Lakshmi, India and Afghanistan sign security and trade pact, The Washington Post, 4 Oct 2011; Also see: Afghanistan and India sign ‘strategic partnership’, BBC News, 4 Oct 2011

[60] India good friend, Pak conjoined twin of Afghanistan: Karzai, Zee News, 12 Mar 2010

[61] William Darymple, A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Brookings Essay, Brookings Institution, 25 Jun 2013

[62] Musharraf’s Meltdown: “Yes, Indeed. Very Angry”, Safarang, 14 Apr 2007

[63] President, bickering anti-terror allies meet for dinner at White House. Bush urges Karzai, Musharraf to cooperate, NBC News, 28 Sept 2006

[64] Kamran Yousaf, Trilateral summit: Demand for Mullah Omar overshadows trilateral moot, The Express Tribune, 18 Feb 2012

[65] Mark Oliver, The new Afghan administration, The Guardian, 5 Dec 2001

[66] Baqir Sajjad Syed, Persisting differences mar Pak-Afghan talks, Dawn, 18 Feb 2012

[67] William Byrd, The Bonn legacy, Foreign Policy, 8 Jul 2013

[68] Mehreen Zahra-Malik, Pakistan sees Afghanistan’s Karzai as obstacle to peace with Taliban, Reuters, 24 Mar 2013

[69] Reuters, Pakistan sees Afghanistan’s Karzai as obstacle to peace with Taliban, Dawn, 25 Mar 2013

[70] President Hamid Karzai, shown last week, is seen as trying to shake his image as an American lackey by appealing to nationalism. Alissa J. Rubin, Karzai Bets on Vilifying U.S. to Shed His Image as a Lackey, The New York Times, 12 Mar 2013

[71] Ben Farmer and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, Pakistan Builds Border Fence, Limiting Militants and Families Alike, The New York Times, 15 Mar 2020

[72] Pakistan, Afghanistan in angry tangle over border fence to keep out militants, Reuters, 18 Oct 2017

[73] M. Ilyas Khan, Torkham border crossing: Pakistan curbs Afghan entry, BBC News, 2 June 2016

[74] APP  Abuzar Afridi, Tahir Khan, Torkham border reopens after four days, The Express Tribune, 14 May 2016

[75] AFP, Hot line contact between Pakistan, Afghanistan established: ISPR, The Express Tribune, 30 Dec 2015

[76] Ibrahim Shinwari, Pakistan, Afghanistan deploy tanks as fencing dispute escalates, Dawn, 13 May 2016

[77] From the book Afghanistan in Transition: Crafting a Strategy for Enduring Stability, Edited by Beata Gorka-Winter and Bartosz Wisniewski and published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs. Vanda Felbab-Brown, Security and Politics in Pre-transition Afghanistan, Brookings Institution, 9 May 2012; PDF Report:

[78] Vanda Felbab-Brown, Why Pakistan supports terrorist groups, and why the US finds it so hard to induce change, Brookings Institution, 5 Jan 2018

[79] David Clark Scott, What’s the Quetta Shura Taliban and why does it matter?, The Christian Science Monitor, 24 Feb 2010

[80] AFP, Who are the Haqqanis, Afghanistan´s most feared insurgents?, The News, 17 Oct 2017

[81] Haqqani network is a “veritable arm” of ISI: Mullen, Dawn, 22 Sept 2011

[82] AFP, Pakistan won’t be a ‘scapegoat’ in Afghan war, PM Abbasi tells UN General Assembly, Dawn, 22 Sept 2017

[83] Anwar Iqbal, US will act if Pakistan does not destroy safe havens: CIA, Dawn, 4 Dec 2017

[84] Anwar Iqbal, US to take unilateral steps in ‘areas of divergence’ with Pakistan: Pentagon, Dawn, 18 Dec 2017

[85] Zeeshan Haider, Pakistan says won’t let foreign troops on its soil, Reuters, 7 Jan 2008

[86] The stability of Afghanistan—and the denial of its territory to terrorist groups—requires a good-faith Pakistani agreement to cease backing extremists, and after nearly two decades, this means, coercing Pakistan. Michael Rubin, Winning in Afghanistan Requires Taking the Fight to Pakistan, The National Interest, 3 Jun 2019

[87] Saeed Shah, Pakistan rejects ‘America’s war’ on extremists, The Guardian, 24 Oct 2008

[88] Pamela Constable, Trump’s new Afghanistan policy has Pakistan angry and alarmed, The Washington Post, 29 Aug 2017

[89] Pakistani Public Opinion Ever More Critical of U.S. 74% Call America an Enemy, PEW Research Survey, 27 Jun 2012

[90] David Rohde, U.S. Will Celebrate Pakistan As a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally’, The New York Times, 19 Mar 2004

[91] Steve Coll, The Unblinking Stare: The drone war in Pakistan, The New Yorker, November 24, 2014 Issue, 17 Nov 2014

[92] Drone Strikes: Pakistan, America’s Counterterrorism Warms, New America

[93] Chris Woods, Leaked Pakistani report confirms high civilian death toll in CIA drone strikes, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 22 Jul 2013

[94] A C.I.A. security officer jailed for killing two Pakistanis on a crowded Lahore street was released Wednesday after weeks of secret negotiations between American and Pakistani officials, a pledge of millions of dollars in “blood money” to the victims’ families, and quiet political pressure by Pakistani officials on the courts. Carlotta Gall and Mark Mazzetti, Hushed Deal Frees C.I.A. Contractor in Pakistan, The New York Times, 16 Mar 2011

[95] A log that reveals too much but not confirmed, The News, 2 Mar 2012

[96] (1) Death of Osama bin Laden Fast Facts, CNN Library, 18 Apr 2019; (2) Also see: Seymour M. Hersh, The Killing of Osama bin Laden, London Review of Books, Vol. 37 No. 10 · 21 May 2015,; (3) and See also: Husain Haqqani, What Pakistan Knew About the Bin Laden Raid, Foreign Policy, 13 May 2015

[97] Shams Momand, Pakistan stops NATO supplies after deadly raid, Reuters, 25 Nov 2011

[98] ‘Unprovoked’: DGMO gives details of aerial assault by Quatrina Hosain, The Express Tribune, Nov 30, 2011 (

[99] Erik Eckholm, Threats and Responses: Terrorism; Pakistanis Arrest Qaeda Figure Seen as Planner of 9/11, The New York Times, 2 Mar 2003

[100] Farid Sabri, 67,399 people killed in terror attacks during past 15 years, Pakistan Today, 20 May 2017

[101] US ‘war on terror’ has killed over half a million people: study, Al-Jazeera, 9 Nov 2018; Also see the report: Neta C. Crawford, Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars:  Lethality and the Need for Transparency, Costs of War, Watson Institute International and Public Affairs, Brown University, Nov 2018,%20Nov%208%202018%20CoW.pdf

[102] Shahbaz Rana, War on terror aid: Pakistan received $33.4bn from US, The Express Tribune, 6 Sept 2017

[103] Pakistan offers help for peace in Afghanistan, Dawn, 13 Mar 2020

[104] Pakistan has a ‘very important’ role in implementing Doha accord: US general, Dawn, 14 Mar 2020

[105] Afghanistan as a Rentier State Model: Lessons from the Collapse by G.D. Bakshi, Officer, Indian Army, (Manohar Parikar) Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA)

[106] AFP, Ghani says won’t allow Afghanistan to be used for proxy wars, Dawn, 26 Nov 2014

[107] Buzkashi: Afghanistan’s national sport is like polo, with a headless goat, NPR

[108] Kallol Bhattacherjee, U.S.-Taliban agreement | India hails peace deal in “contiguous neighbour”, The Hindu, 29 Feb 2020

[109] Kautilya, New World Encyclopedia; Also see: Chanakya, Ancient History Encyclopedia

[110] Avinash Paliwal, My Enemy’s Enemy: India in Afghanistan from the Soviet Invasion to the US Withdrawal, Hurst & Company, London, 2017, p. 7

[111] India and Pakistan’s Afghan Endgames: What Lies Ahead? Neil Padukone, World Affairs, Nov/Dec 2012

[112] William Dalrymple, Afghanistan: as China forges new alliances, a new Great Game has begun, The Guardian, 18 Mar 2014

[113] A rivalry that threatens the world, The Economist, 19 May 2011

[114] William Darymple, A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Brookings Essay, Brookings Institution, 25 Jun 2013

[115] Jayshree Bajoria, RAW: India’s External Intelligence Agency, Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, 7 Nov 2008

[116] “India has always used Afghanistan as a second front. And India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border. And you can carry that into many dimensions.” ‘India financed problems for Pakistan’ from Afghanistan: Chuck Hagel, The Express Tribune, 26 Feb 2013; See also: YouTube Video:

[117] Pakistan has increased efforts to reach out to some of its biggest enemies in Afghanistan, a significant policy shift that could prove crucial to U.S.-backed efforts to strike a peace deal in the neighboring country. Heidi Vogt and Sebastian Abbot, New Pakistan outreach could aid Afghan peace deal, Associated Press, Yahoo News, 27 Oct 2012

[118] Annie Gowen, India already gives Afghanistan billions in aid. Now Trump says India must ‘help us more’, The Washington Post, 22 Aug 2017

[119] Pamela Constable, Pakistan fears Afghan peace failure could bring violence its way, The Washington Post, 13 mar 2020

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