Pakistan and Afghanistan: Thy Neighbors, Thy Rivals
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Pakistan and Afghanistan: Thy Neighbors, Thy Rivals


The head of the Afghan army, General Sher Mohammad Karimi has suggested that the conflict in Afghanistan could end “in weeks” if Pakistan told the Taliban to cease the insurgency. Going far beyond an implicit suggestion of Pakistan’s influence over the militant group, General Karimi openly accused Islamabad of giving shelter to Taliban leaders and stoking the insurgency in Afghanistan.

"The Taliban are under (Pakistan's) control – the leadership is in Pakistan," Karimi said in an interview with the BBC’s Hard Talk program, broadcast on July 3.

The allegations are the latest in a series of accusations leveled by Kabul at Islamabad and represent a new low in bilateral ties. Significantly, they come at a sensitive time, when international negotiations associated with creating a stable Afghanistan are delicately poised. Only last month, the Afghan government denounced planned talks between the U.S. and the Taliban in the Qatari capital of Doha, which have since been put on hold. According to reports, Pakistan played a crucial role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

The fact that the U.S. and Pakistan seem to be supporting peace talks with the Taliban despite the Afghan government’s strident opposition may have fuelled growing fears of being sidelined in the peace talks and in effect constraining its own ability to influence the outcome of such discussions. Indeed, according to Bruce Riedel, a former adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, the opening of the Taliban office, with the trappings of an embassy, in Qatar last month may have strengthened the hand of hardline elements within the Taliban as well as its Pakistani patrons.

In an op-ed in The Indian Express on July 3, Riedel wrote: “The Taliban's patrons, the Pakistani army and its ISI intelligence service, were pleased with the outcome. The Pakistani generals believe time is on their side in Afghanistan, that America has already lost the war and that their clients will prevail.”

 Which is why Afghans were particularly outraged after Pakistan floated the concept of an Afghan power-sharing arrangement between Kabul and the Taliban as part of a peace talks "end game". In a meeting last week between Pakistani national security adviser Sartaj Aziz and Afghan ambassador Umer Daudzai, Islamabad is reported to have suggested that Kabul adopt a form of federalism by ceding power in some Afghan provinces to the Taliban. That idea is anathema to the Afghan government, which has demanded that any peace talks with the Taliban be incumbent on the Taliban ending its violent campaigns and respecting the Afghan constitution.

More importantly, if reports of the Pakistani proposal are true, then it would suggest that there is little change in Islamabad’s strategy from the 1990s, when Pakistan used the Taliban as part of its grand bargain to maintain a favorable government in Kabul. Indeed, during the years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996-2001, the Taliban was seen as the perfect ally to keep Pakistan’s arch-rival and the elephant in the room – India – in check.

For five years, India remained in the wilderness, without diplomatic representation and little in the way of leverage. However, the toppling of the Taliban regime and installation of a friendly government under President Hamid Karzai led to a ratcheting up of Indian diplomatic and economic assistance in the last decade, much to Islamabad’s chagrin. With Afghanistan set to undergo a momentous security and political transition in 2014, Pakistan with its latest proposal seems to be hedging its bets by once again viewing the Taliban as an insurance policy against growing Indian influence in Afghanistan.

That strategy is fraught with risks and will almost certainly intensify geopolitical rivalries over Afghanistan and potentially destabilize the region. Pakistan’s evolving Afghan policy may also prove to be a litmus test for the newly elected government of Nawaz Sharif, which has vowed to chart its own foreign policy, traditionally the preserve of the security establishment.

Rather than engaging in a futile zero-sum game, India and Pakistan will do well to institute a dialogue on Afghanistan to better manage the period of heightened political and security uncertainty after 2014. Such a conception is hardly unrealistic given that India and China held their first standalone dialogue on Afghanistan in April, despite being regional rivals with competing interests.

July 10, 2013 at 01:53

I really wonder why Bruce Riedel couldn't find an American newspaper or magazine to publish his rants in, instead it is published in an Indian one, this is no coincidence.

If Riedel has so much problem with the opening of the Qatar office and the US abandonment of the preconditions for the peace talks it had set earlier, then he should be taking this up with his own leaders instead of throwing a tantrum at Pakistan in an Indian outlet.

July 9, 2013 at 21:44

Yeah but it is a rural based insurgency 1 million Afghan Pashtuns supported the insurgency in 2009, so the drone strikes mini rolling thunder, Pakistani operations inside the FATA made a difference on Pakistani Pashtun involvement.

July 9, 2013 at 21:26


The REAL reason why Afghanistan has historically been so consumed with war-hunger against Pakistan has absolutely nothing to do with any Pakistani actions or policies in Afghanistan at any point in history. The real reason is that the Pashtuns are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group but in total make up no more than 38% of its population. But the entity we now call "Afghanistan" (a completely artificial creation with no basis in history) has been Pashtun dominated over the last 2 centuries but it has great difficulty to maintain its dominance on those other ethnic groups that make up very large minorities.

So the Pashtuns' formula for achieving the total dominance it sought was to suddenly increase the population of Pashtuns by leaps and bounds, and for that they laid claim on all of Pakistani territory up to the Jhelum River (approximately 60% of that country!), thus raising the proportion of Pashtuns from 30-38% of Afghanistan's population to 70-78%, and a happy by-product being Afghanistan's access to the Arabian Sea coastline.

On top of that the Pashtun tribes and clans themselves have always been at each other's throats in a competition for domination over a Pashtun-controlled state so this complex dynamic of inter-tribal and inter-ethnic conflict is the whole theme of Afghanistan's history, and that is the only thing that has made it such an obsession for the Pashtuns to make vast land-grabs in Pakistan.

As long as this dynamic continues, Afghanistan will never be at peace with itself or its neighbors. The Afghans are not even willing to accept the fact that the vast majorit of Pashtuns live in Pakistan and separatist and ethnic nationalist sentiment among them had died out a long time ago; they have been so thoroughly mass-integrated into the Pakistani state that they now have no desire to break away from Pakistan and become a part of Afghanistan. Yet Afghanistan, for entirely domestic legitimacy-related reasons, keeps claiming Pakistani territories and sponsoring covert subversion against Pakistan in tandem with India for it.

July 9, 2013 at 21:15

Assad is winning the war in Syria while the US is now turning its guns on some of the terrorists it and Syria's neighbors unleashed on that country in 2011.

July 9, 2013 at 13:41

Taliban indeed is an insurance policy against growing Indian influence in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, etc. China too should take out this insurance policy. Post-2014 Afghanistan will be much worse than now and no one in his right mind expects any success in peace talks. Taliban won this war and they know what it makes them entitled to. These are hard facts we should not avoid.

All regional countries' interests don't converge. They don't have to.

July 9, 2013 at 13:34


If Pakistan stops this futile attempts to fight others' war, it can save billions each year. Who are Taliban's real enemies in the region? India and US interests. Not Pakistan. There is absolutely no reason why Pakistan should fight this war.

USA and coalition forces are looking for someone to handover the mess and leave so that Taliban will not come after them. India will be 'wise' to takeover from USA! Until India takesover, USA will be with India.

Little Bird
July 9, 2013 at 07:08

The US needs to get out of the way so the real war can be launched and real peace and eternal silence can have a chance to take hold. Pakistanis have picked the wrong horse like Assad did. Not a good idea to screw America in the long run. The CIA will take over where the Military failed to win hearts and minds by giving arms to the right people. Ask Assad where his terrorist supporting got him. Pakistan is so screwed. Give it some time… revenge is a dish best served cold.

Trent Hawkins
July 8, 2013 at 20:55

The Afghan president has also accused the US of playing double games. He has accused the US and Pakistan of collaborating against Afghanistan and later he has also accused the US and the Afghan Taliban insurgency of being secretly allied with one another to keep the war in Afghanistan going so the US would have an excuse to maintain a permanent presence – at a time when people within his own regime are secretly making truces and alliances with the Taliban. Meanwhile the Haqqani Network accuses the US and Iran of being secretly allied in jointly pursuing their interests in Afghanistan.

So you migh want to lay back on accusing anyone of playing double-games. That is just not the mature thing to do at a time when everyone is trying to reach a negotiated solution to this decades-long war. This is not the time for tossing blames, let's not stoop to Hamid Karzai's level.

July 8, 2013 at 20:42

@Dan: That $1.3B is peanuts compared to the costs Pakistan has borne in this war. It has incurred over $70B in direct costs as well as over $100B in lost investments as a direct result of this war (which has brought it to the brink of economic collapse), not to mention 50,000 of its citizens (including many thousands of its army and intelligence personnel) have been killed by terrorists based in Afghanistan and created by and actively backed, funded and armed by the United States and its Afghan proxy while Pakistan's entire society has been severely destabilized like it has never been before. Pakistan has the greatest stake in ensuring peace in Afghanistan. After all, Pakistan was the one who kept telling the Americans to negotiate with the Taliban instead of invading Afghanistan right from day one, something that they are now doing, 12 years, over 2,000 lives and about a trillion dollars later.

As for your $#1.3B, receives over $11B in remittances from its expatriates abroad every single year so it is absurd to claim Pakistan goes to such enormous lengths just to secure a puny $1.3B, the majority of which never even materializes in Pakistani hands. And that $1.3B is not even aid or "life-blood," it is rightful compensation for the use of Pakistani supply routes and military facilities by the US in waging this war.

It is very sad and regrettable that you would hurl such slander at Pakistan even though the international community (especially senior White House officials) have admitted that they were wrong to doubt Pakistan's sincerity to the peace process and that country has played the greatest role in getting the peace talks off the ground.

So you might want to rethink your theory in the light of actual facts. After all, Afghan Taliban do enjoy sanctuary in Pakistani territory but there is no evidence Pakistan actively shelters and backs the insurgency, and Pakistan is certainly not the only country that has ties to them. The Arabs, Iranians, Chinese and even the US' Afghan colony has intimate links with it. Would you like to explain their motivation for doing so?

Irfan Elahi
July 8, 2013 at 16:32

Afghan general who unleashed his propaganda against Pakistan is a another episode of few afghan generals , intelligence officials and the karzai as a head snake , but this the great game will fuel more violence and propaganda in coming months. First of all , Pakistan border province with Afghanistan will never become part of Afghanistan ever just because these afghans still has nomadic mentality and live in past doesn’t mean anything. Afghans have been fighting on tribal and ethnic issues will never ever be united if they want an independent without any foreign intervention they gonna have to stop hating the Pashtuns , hazards and Tajiks if they want a peacefully country.

July 7, 2013 at 22:03

Look, international concerns about Pakistan's actions may or may not be understandable, but this article does not do its readers any service. It makes open-ended guesses about Pakistan's intentions using entirely unsubstantiated rumors and quotes biased parties like Gen. Karimi and Bruce Riedel.

This article is just the latest in a long line of proofs of why no one should ever take any serious notice of anything about Pakistan that is written by most Indians.

July 7, 2013 at 21:48

Afghanistan's provocative and confrontational attitude is highly unwarranted, and it is in no position to complain about Pakistani interference in its internal matters (especially since it never complains about similar interference from a host of other countries too).

Pakistan has given immense financial and other assistance to Afghanistan. It has hosted over 5 million Afghan refugees for the last 3.5 decades, the same refugees who are the most militantly anti-Pakistan Afghan-centric Pashtun chauvinists. Just a week or so ago, Pakistan extended the refugee status and the associated benefits to 1.6 million Afghans out of the 3 million that still remain. Most of the rest blended into the Pakistani population and got themselves fake Pakistani passports and National ID Cards.

In the interest of peaceful co-existence, Pakistan has given Afghanistan extremely preferential and generous trade concessions far above and beyond what landlocked countries are entitled to under international law. Islamabad has patiently watched as Afghan territory and resources have been used for the resumption of the historic penchant of sponsorhsip of large-scale terrorist and subversive activities against Pakistan that Afghanistan started in tandem with India right from the time Pakistan was created. The CIA continues to be involved in multiple anti-Pakistan actions from its Afghan bases, and terrorist groups backed by Kabul openly enjoy Afghan safe havens with impunity.

Considering all of this, Pakistan has a perfectly legitimate case to have a say in the Afghan question and ensuring that peace prevails in Afghanistan after the decade-long American military misadventure. If Karzai’s government can’t understand this, Pakistan will have no choice but to use its transit trade concessions to his country as a leverage to drive the point home.

Pakistan needs to be direct and blunt in defining its interest in Afghan peace as well as dictating its direction. It should be direct in stamping out India's policy (which started in 1950) of meddling in Afghanistan to use that country as a "second front" against Pakistan.

Enough is enough. Whatever concerns India may have about Pakistan's use of Afghanistan as a base from which to breed jihadists to unleash on Kashmir should be resolved by diplomatic means, especially be implementing that long-overdue plebiscite in that Indian-occupied state (as well as the Pakistani-administered portion of it) but any Indian role in Afghanistan against Pakistan will simply no longer be tolerated.

July 7, 2013 at 21:37

The Afghan government is simply not behaving maturely and the peace process has so far kept faltering mostly because of Kabul's own petty self-centeredness. The ONLY things it has ever contributed to the peace process are threats, allegations, blackmail and completely unreasonable demands that nobody can ever consider entertaining.


Basically, the Afghan government is afraid the world is now on the path toward recognizing the Afghan Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and it is too unwilling to enter any power-sharing deal since it will have to concede key ministries to its foe. In a word, Kabul is behaving in exacty the same manner that past Afghan regimes have… right before they fell from power! It should show more maturity, adopt a more cociliatory and accommodating attitude toward Pakistan and do its utmost to reach a diplomatic solution that will ensure lasting peace. Accusations against Pakistan are now completely anachronistic given the international community's finally-realized (even if long-overdue) recognition of its role as a genuine partner in peace.

Kevin Wong
July 7, 2013 at 21:19

Pakistan is a terrorist state. Nothing more, nothing less.

Dan Pendleton
July 7, 2013 at 21:16

Pakistan's intelligence service (the ISI) likes to play it both ways, ostensibly promoting peace talks while sheltering Taliban's leaders & fighters inside Pakistan. Why? To keep that US military aid of $1.3B annually flowing unhindered, of course. This is the lifeblood of the Pakistani Army & its corrupt generals.

July 6, 2013 at 17:18

"ITS an historical fact that lossers blame others for their incompetencies."

The point to note here is this even if we consider its true whatever afghan army cheif is saying, still why in the world US AND IT ALLIES not allowing pakistan to be aparty to DOHA TALKS.

IS it that US AND its ALLIES specially india and israel have some other thoughts related to the future of afghanistan and its neighbours specially pakistan and iran.

THINK MY FELLOWS THINK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Necholas Brody
July 6, 2013 at 01:15

While focusing on the reconciliation process, Pakistan’s role is of utmost importance as it has played an indispensable role in the Afghan reconciliation process. Pakistan always preferred the regional approach, especially the role of Afghanistan and neighbouring countries for the peaceful and long-term resolution of Afghanistan’s situation.

Ahsan Ali
July 6, 2013 at 01:14

Pakistan has always played an important role for peaceful Afghanistan and South Asian region, despite of India’s tries to dismantle the peace. Afghanistan’s issue can only be resolved by negotiations with Taliban, which is major political party in Afghanistan and there is no doubt that India is support and sheltering these terrorist organizations by funding, which are hindering the peace negotiations. Allegations that are put against Pakistan should be condemn, rightly so Islamabad rejected them and they should keep the peace process going.

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