While the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan started to show some improvement after the fourth round of talks under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) recently in Islamabad, Kabul in a display of total undiplomatic behavior objected to the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. APAPPS is a joint action plan for cooperation in the areas of counter terrorism and reduction of violence, peace and reconciliation, Afghan refugees’ repatriation and joint economic development.
Afghanistan vociferous objection to the merger of FATA with KP is, although legally meaningless, but politically it is of great significance in the context of mutual relations. Afghanistan based its objection to the merger on the premise that Pakistan sovereign action contravened the 1921 treaty signed between Afghanistan and the then British India. In its immediate reaction to the merger of FATA with KP, deputy presidential spokesman Dawa Khan Menapal said, “The Afghan government by realizing the colonial and inhuman oppressive system in the tribal regions believes that the unilateral decision aimed at stripping the autonomy of tribal regions is not the solution while we have not the consensus of the people and the suggestion of the Afghan government regarding the issue.” He further said, “But, Afghan government officials have declared Pakistan’s move on the merger of FATA as unacceptable and inappropriate.”
The Afghan government response to the FATA merger is such that it tried to depict that the region was a disputed territory or part of Afghanistan so that Pakistan should first have discussed it with the other “party”. The inhabitants of FATA never disputed Pakistan’s control over the region and there has never been an uprising by them for separation. This is a conclusive example of the arguments and claims of Kabul being totally unwarranted and unjustified.
Reportedly, officials in Kabul claimed Afghanistan shared its concerns regarding the matter through diplomatic channels with the Pakistani side and the international community. “I think the Afghan government has the right to act based on the commitments we have in the past and the agreements between the two countries particularly between the Afghan government and the British India,” said first deputy speaker of the senate, Mohammad Alam Ezedyar. “We call on the international community to concentrate on the issue, because it is another clear violation by Pakistan,” Afghan senator Ghulam Muhayyudin Munsef said. Interestingly, despite such appeals the international community made not even a single statement against the FATA merger with KP. This is clear defeat for the Afghan standpoint on the matter.
The fact is that Kabul does not have any real enemy other than itself to charge for its failure in restoring peace to the war-ravaged country. Therefore, it has been trying to blame Pakistan for everything on the slimmest possible pretext. Afghanistan, historically, has been a self-proclaimed and self-appointed champion of Pashtun rights in Pakistan. Although we have been against the merger of the two units on administrative basis but whether Pakistan decides to merge and split its administrative units is an absolute sovereign right of Pakistan. Afghanistan’s objection to the FATA merger with KP is, in fact, based on the assumption that the former has been an autonomous region and merging it with KP has made it part and parcel of Pakistan. This is a totally flawed stance, because FATA has been an integral part of Pakistan according to the 1973 Constitution and it has never been independent of Pakistan. Although it has been the incompetence of successive Pakistani governments and regimes in failing to give a clear administrative status to the border region. The upshot of this has been that the internationally-supported non-state actors in the garb of Muslim militant and terrorist groups made FATA their rallying and staging ground for taking advantage of the power-political vacuum there.
On its part, the Afghan leadership has been blaming Pakistan for instability and chaos in Afghanistan with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani continually charging Pakistan for not cooperating in the Afghan peace process. With each passing day the insecurity in Afghanistan is increasing and the Afghan government seems to be helpless while US-led NATO finds itself on the horns of the dilemma of what to do with the continuing instability. Kabul finds it difficult to stop its oft-repeated charges against Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, without doing much to stabilize the state institutions. Objective analysis of the situation in Afghanistan reveals that none of the foreign actors is more responsible for the insurgency, political chaos and grave security issues in Afghanistan than the Afghan political and social leadership. In other words, neither the US-led NATO nor Pakistan, generally perceived to be the two most important foreign actors in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, have been largely responsible for trouble in Afghanistan.
Historically speaking, Pakistan has always been generally disliked, if not altogether hated, by Afghans for the unfounded reason that Pakistan, one of the successor states of British India, has been in possession of Afghan territories. Although the irredentist claims of Afghanistan on Pakistan have legally and politically no grounds, according to a thorough reading of history, but Afghans persist in this groundless belief and that is why they dislike Pakistan. For instance, after the FATA merger with KP, Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai said that the merger will not impact the Durand Line. “While we are very happy to see the removal of the oppressive FCR and the mainstreaming of FATA, I remind the government of Pakistan of the verdict of the Afghan people regarding the non-recognition of Durand Line,” Karzai tweeted. This is the Afghan mindset regarding Pakistan. It is important to note that certain of our own groups and individuals have been more loyal to Afghanistan than Pakistan. Mahmud Achakzai is a case in point. Importantly, Karzai made the above-mentioned tweet soon after hosting Achakzai in Kabul. Achakzai has been vehemently against the merger of FATA with KP and it is now very clear that he has been doing this at Afghan bidding. So people like Achakzai have to come clear about their nationality and interest, or else it is binding upon the Pakistani authorities to question them on their disloyalty to Pakistan.
The longstanding Afghan claim that Pakistan has been in possession of Afghan territory is one of the many unfounded beliefs and legends of the Afghans. For instance, there has been a deep-entrenched belief within Afghanistan that Afghanistan remained invincible throughout history. Whether it was the Persian Nadir Shah Central Asian Mongols, European British, Eurasian Russians or Indian Sikhs all defeated Afghan rulers and made Afghanistan part of their kingdoms or empires, or made it a sphere of influence without annexing it as it was not worth it.
China may be trying to improve Islamabad-Kabul relations and the US may be desirous of brining the two neighbours closer so as to fight the Muslim terrorist group. But both Beijing and Washington and every other international player must understand that unless Afghanistan adheres to its flawed stance regarding Pakistan and its territories, no amount of diplomatic efforts could improve their ties.