Yearender 2022: Pakistan-Taliban ties in jeopardy over Durand Line crisis


NEW DELHI: The honeymoon period between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban is over as Islamabad is facing an emerging security situation in border provinces and an assertive Taliban, which is unwilling to accept any ‘one-sided’ change in the status quo ante on the Durand Line issue.
A major point of contention between the two neighbours is the status of a colonial legacy–the Durand line, cutting through the Pashtun-dominated tribal areas. Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021 two decades after being removed from power by a US-led military coalition.
Pakistan played an important role in facilitating the 2020 US-Taliban deal. It has also backed the Taliban regime since it regained power in Afghanistan on August 15. But Pakistan has not yet recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers, possibly because of pressure from the United States.
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan endorsed the Taliban taking over Kabul by saying that Afghanistan has broken the “shackles of slavery” in the neighbouring war-torn country.Pakistan is accused of facilitating the Taliban rebellion which ultimately resulted in the seizing of power after being ousted about 20 years ago.
Pakistan once believed that the Afghan Taliban is a “strategic asset” but today it has turned into a foe, according to a report in The Khaama Press.
The conflict between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban was initiated after the “Taliban took over Kabul on August 15, 2021. The deep state in Pakistan, once believed the Taliban would help them build “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Yet the same Afghan Taliban, once hailed as a “strategic asset” has today turned into a foe. Imran Khan, then PM of Pakistan, declared that the Taliban had through its takeover, broken “the shackles of slavery. Many other Pakistanis also celebrated. Today, they are rueing their statements!”, according to the Khaama Press report.
Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship before and after the Taliban entered into power
In 1947, Pakistan emerged as a new country after independence and at that time Afghan was the only nation which voted against Islamabad’s admission to the UN, according to The Diplomat. Since that time the relationship between the two countries remained strained and continued to do so. From 1947 to 1978, until Mohammed Daoud Khan’s government collapsed, Pakistan and Afghanistan witnessed many undeclared wars. In those years, Afghanistan was heavily involved in Pakistan’s internal affairs where separatist Balochs received political, financial and military support from Kabul. And this is all done as Afghanistan sought to realize its demand to negotiate its border, the so-called Durand line with Pakistan, Diplomat reported.
After the collapse of Khan’s government in 1978, the communist takeover the Kabul gave Pakistan an upper hand in this case, Now, Pakistan turned the tables on Afghanistan. Islamabad happily welcomed the Afghans, who fled from the communist regime, and allowed them to form the militias, popularly known as “Mujahideen,” which is a group formed in the early 1990s by Islamic guerilla fighters, who had resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89) with the covert backing of the Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).
With Pakistani military and financial support, the Taliban were able to control large swathes of Afghanistan, especially seizing Kabul in 1996.
Presently, the Pakistan establishment does not support Afghanistan for the most obvious reason that the Taliban had extended its relations with Qatar, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Russia, China and even India and USA.
The border dividing the two nations was drawn arbitrarily by the British in 1893 and is called the Durand Line, dividing the millions of ethnic Pashtuns who shared the same culture and ethnicity and didn’t identify with either of the two sides.
At a Loya Jirga (tribal assembly) in 1949, Afghanistan unilaterally withdrew from the agreement. A majority of Pashtuns still hold on to their tribal ways of living, exhorting ‘Pashtunwali’ more than the state-sponsored ideology that is forced on them.
The Durand Line passes through the present-day Pakistani provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan. It also includes 10 provinces in Afghanistan.
Taking back to the time in the 18th century, when the Pashtun Empire disintegrated after the fall of the Durrani dynasty. And in such a situation, the British, as always hit the rock at the right moment and extended their control to the region. But the hinterlands were always a tough area to govern. When the two Anglo-Afghan wars (1838-42 and 1878-80) failed to expand British influence and tame the belligerent tribal groups, a policy reassessment was undertaken. Fearing Russian advancement towards Central Asia, and a possible attack from the Pashtun tribes on their settled populations, a multi-layered defence mechanism–a tripartite frontier–was postulated with three concentric frontiers: The first at the foothills of the Sulaiman hills, till where the British had formal control; the second where the vassal states under the ‘influence’ of British were located; and the final buffer which was Afghanistan itself, as per the think tank, Observation Research Foundation report.
The Foreign Secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand was dispatched to sign an agreement with the Amir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman. Inked on 12 November 1893, the Durand line demarcated the Pashtun-inhabited region, creating a cleavage amongst the people who shared the same culture and ethnicity and didn’t identify with either of the two parties. The agreement, apart from ensuring protection in case of a Russian assault, gave Britain access to major trade and access routes and complemented its strategy of divide and rule to curb the burgeoning Pashtun nationalism, according to the think tank.
Disputed in the context of the struggle for the Pashtun homeland, it has of late become the cause of heightened border tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to Al Arabia. While Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of harbouring anti-Pakistan elements, TTP on its soil, the Taliban do not recognize the Durand Line which separates the two countries and divides the home of ethnic Pashtuns.
A surge in attacks between Pakistan and Afghanistan
Ties between Pakistan and the Taliban facing a new blow as several new cases have been reported that revealed that the Taliban has increased its attacks on Pakistan. Recently, in December, armed clashes erupted between security forces from Pakistan and Afghanistan at the border in Chaman, leaving at least one dead and 15 others injured. After the clash, Chaman authorities declared an emergency, closing the markets and Islamabad’s foreign office summoned the Afghan officials in their country and issued a ‘strong condemnation’ over the recent incidents of cross-border shelling in the area.
“Afghan Charge d’Affaires in Islamabad was called into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Pakistan’s strong condemnation over recent incidents of unprovoked cross-border shelling by Afghan Border Security Forces in the Chaman-Spin Boldak area, resulting in loss of life, injuries and damage to property, was conveyed,” the Pakistan foreign ministry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, earlier Afghanistan said that four people died and 20 others were injured after a mortar landed near Afghanistan’s Spin Boldak gate, Tolo News reported citing sources.
Security is being challenged daily by TTP and other terrorist groups including Daesh/IS-K and Baloch insurgents.
Pakistan’s home-grown “asset” TTP haunts its master
Pakistan had trained and supported the Taliban, it felt that they will be helpful to its master but all the theories were proved wrong as soon as the group came to power the attack on Islamabad increased.
The recent terrorist strike in Pakistan by the TTP in the Bannu region and Sunday’s multiple bomb blasts that took place in Islamabad’s I-10 sector shows that terror incidents have increased particularly after TTP called off their ceasefire with the government in November.
The grave terrorist threat confronting Pakistan is evident from the Bannu hostage crisis ( Dec 19-21) followed by the Islamabad suicide attack by two suicide bombers including a female at I-10/4 on Dec 23 in which one policeman was killed and six others injured.
The Bannu operation ended in the wee hours of Dec 21 with 25 militants killed, three captured and seven surrendered. The JCO, who was held hostage and three soldiers were also killed.
Pakistan, which has trained the Taliban, felt that their support will turn Afghanistan towards them and will be loyal to them but fate has another answer. Afghanistan has chosen another path and instead of staying loyal to Pakistan, had actually declared war on them.
The Khaama Press report also said that: “Within a few days of their victory, the new rulers of Kabul released members of the Pakistani Taliban (known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) who had been imprisoned in Afghan jails, the same people who have spent years waging war on the Islamabad government.” Taliban refused to accept the Durand Line, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border drawn by the British over a century ago.
After the fall of Kabul, Pakistan wanted to keep the US happy while also maintaining its support for the Afghan-Taliban. The policy, an ambiguous one, kept no one happy.
Pakistan’s Lt. General Faiz Hameed, earlier the Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), flew to Kabul in mid-2021 to support the Taliban’s efforts against the Panjshir fighters in Northern Afghanistan.Hameed again visited Kabul in 2022 to persuade the Afghan Taliban to work out a peace deal with the TTP. He, however, failed the mission. The TTP, as a result, came back back to Pakistan. The terrorist attacks in Pakistan have since increased by 51 per cent.
According to The Khaama Press report, “The current situation on the border arose subsequent to General Asim Munir taking over as the new Chief of the Pakistani army. The next day, four civilians were killed in a suicide bombing in Pakistan; the TTP claimed responsibility.”
“General Asim Munir presided over a meeting of senior generals at General Headquarters (GHQs) in Rawalpindi soon after taking over. It was decided to launch military operations against the TTP in KPK and northern Balochistan. The decision to launch the military operation followed the attack on the Pakistani embassy in Kabul earlier in December 2022 and the Afghan Border Forces’ attack on the Chaman Border that resulted in the deaths of six Pakistani civilians,” according to the Khaama Press report.
During a recent counter-terrorism operation in Banu, the TTP fighters took police personnel hostage and asked for their safe passage to Afghanistan in return for the hostages.