The Dynamics of Pakistan Afghanistan Relations and the Future of AfPak

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Context

The present dynamics of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan is directly tied to Pakistan relations with the US and India. There is a plausible scenario where, as relations worsen with the US, relations will deteriorate with Afghanistan as well, and possible reopen the historic Durand Line issue between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While short-term relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan look gloomy, the emerging trend towards a regional SCO-dominated community may in the longer term see the two neighbors more in-line with each other. The shifting regional dynamics, however, could turn into a new “Great Game” of tug-of-wars between the SCO and NATO alliances.

India has flourished under its successful “Look East” policy, which stressed increased engagement in Asia, however Pakistan has been unsuccessful in implementing either a “Look East” “Look West” or even “Look North” into Central Asia due to the conflict in and around its borders. Pakistan’s economic situation has worsened steadily as a result. This article examines the emerging politics of the AfPak region.

Analysis

US-Pakistan Relations

Mistrust has long been part and parcel of the US-Pakistan relationship. Rarely, however, has it escalated to the level we are currently witnessing, where the mistrust runs so deep that the line between ally and enemy is no longer clear.

The US recently decided to withhold US$800 million in military aid to Pakistan, after Pakistan was late to act on shared intelligence of Afghan-Taliban bomb making operations inside Pakistan’s border. Rather than having the desired affect of admonishing Islamabad back to obedience, the funding withdrawal has seemed to kindle an already smoldering feeling in Pakistan that its time to “break the begging bowl” as Pakistani political commentator Ayaz Amir put it. The Pakistani defense minister has also responded to the suspension of funds by threatening to withdraw border security troops from the troubled Afghan border, after already refusing the visas of more than 100 US Special Forces who were in Pakistan to train the Frontier Corps.

PoliTact recently predicted that more unilateral raids by the US on Pakistani territory wouldn’t be out of the question, and now that seems even more likely. If the US Congress decides that it is too late for a “reset” in relations with Pakistan, then it is plausible that the incoming director of the CIA, General David Petraeus will up the number of covert operations in Pakistan, authorized as “civilian-led covert action” under Title 50 of the US Code. Petraeus, while no longer being a military general will still command a large number of paramilitaries in the region, as well as a force of drones, which if recent bombings along the Af-Pak border are anything to go by, will only increase in use.

Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations

While Pakistan and Afghanistan have a few issues where they are on the same page, such as trade and a shared growing feeling of resentment towards the US, the current situation with Pak-US relations will most likely lead to a deterioration in Af-Pak relations, and possibly the reopening of old wounds around the controversial Durand Line that runs over the current international boundary of Pakistan.

The Durand Line was drawn up between Afghan ruler Amir Abdur Rahman Khan and British Indian representatives in 1893 and divides the tribal lands of the Pashtun and Baloch people between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan inherited the Durand Line border when it was created, however Afghanistan refuses to acknowledge its legitimacy as an international border. There is a huge movement of people across the Durand line and this goes mostly unchecked, as the majority is for work or reasons of family, given that the Durand Line border divides local tribal territories. However, the increase in cross-border raids between Pakistan and Afghanistan will almost surely raise the specter of the contested border once more.
Pakistan-India Relations

While trouble brews on its Afghan border, Pakistan is trying to maintain warmer relations along its Eastern border, with India. Many feared that the July 13 Mumbai attacks would derail peace talks planned between Pakistan and India later in July, however they are going ahead as planned. India has refrained from connecting Pakistan with the attacks, which is a primary reason for the talks going ahead as planned. The issue of India, however, brings into view the division within Pakistan’s ruling establishment. The civilian government is eager to increase economic and trade ties with India, however to the Pakistani military, India is still enemy number one.

The Future

India has flourished under its successful “Look East” policy, which stressed increased engagement in Asia, however Pakistan has been unsuccessful in implementing either a “Look East” “Look West” or even “Look North” into Central Asia due to the conflict in and around its borders. Pakistan’s economic situation has worsened steadily as a result.

The upshot of the current dynamic is that Pakistan and Afghanistan are looking more and more like they want a regional solution. At the recent SCO meeting, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev invited Afghanistan to join the organization, of which Pakistan has observer status. This may open up possibility for Pakistan to “Look North” with a renewed interest in regional cooperation. Pakistan’s tumultuous relationship with the US could push it even further, closer to China or Russia and Iran to create a regional bloc that would lessen the need for US aid and support.

While short-term relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan look gloomy, the emerging trend towards a regional SCO-dominated community may in the longer term see the two neighbors more in-line with each other. The shifting regional dynamics, however, could turn into a new “Great Game” of tug-of-wars between the SCO and NATO alliances.