Trust Isn’t The Only Problem In AfPak Relations

Afghanistan and Pakistan have more issues beyond the trust gap. Water, India, and the border all drag down bilateral relations.

Afghan fishermen paddle rubber rafts into the Kabul River to fish on the outskirts of Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province on April 10, 2014. Leading candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election voiced concern that voting was tainted by fraud after millions defied Taliban threats and turned out to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. World leaders praised the courage of Afghan voters, who cast their ballots in force despite bad weather and the violent campaign of intimidation, and urged patience in the long vote count.  AFP PHOTO / Noorullah SHIRZADA        (Photo credit should read Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
Afghan fishermen paddle rubber rafts into the Kabul River to fish on the outskirts of Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province on April 10, 2014. Leading candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election voiced concern that voting was tainted by fraud after millions defied Taliban threats and turned out to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. World leaders praised the courage of Afghan voters, who cast their ballots in force despite bad weather and the violent campaign of intimidation, and urged patience in the long vote count. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah SHIRZADA (Photo credit should read Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
Afghan fishermen paddle rubber rafts into the Kabul River to fish on the outskirts of Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province on April 10, 2014. Leading candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election voiced concern that voting was tainted by fraud after millions defied Taliban threats and turned out to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. World leaders praised the courage of Afghan voters, who cast their ballots in force despite bad weather and the violent campaign of intimidation, and urged patience in the long vote count. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah SHIRZADA (Photo credit should read Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sept. 18, 14 Taliban attackers stormed a military base in Pakistan’s north near the tribal region and killed 28 people, most of them army and air force personnel.

Hours later, Director-General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations Major-General Asim Bajwa told a news conference that the attack on Badaber Base was planned in and controlled from Afghanistan.

The next day, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected in a statement the Pakistani claims and said his country “has never, nor will it ever allow its territory to be used against other states.”

On Sept. 18, 14 Taliban attackers stormed a military base in Pakistan’s north near the tribal region and killed 28 people, most of them army and air force personnel.

Hours later, Director-General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations Major-General Asim Bajwa told a news conference that the attack on Badaber Base was planned in and controlled from Afghanistan.

The next day, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected in a statement the Pakistani claims and said his country “has never, nor will it ever allow its territory to be used against other states.”

Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz responded by telling told local media that his country will provide evidence about the Badaber Base attack to Afghan authorities.

Ghani — whose ascension to power was predicted as the beginning of a new era in off-again-on-again Pakistan-Afghanistan relations — lambasted Pakistan last month following a string of Taliban attacks in and around Kabul in July and August that killed over 50 people.

Once again, the two neighbors are reaching the ground zero less than a year after Ghani’s first official visit to Islamabad in mid-November 2014. But this is not the first time the two countries have entered a bickering mode over cross-border terrorism; it was almost a routine during the presidencies of Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf. Even long before 9/11, relations between the two sides was never cordial and free of doubts.

When Ghani started his three-day visit to Pakistan late last year, he had three lingering issues and the deep-rooted suspicions on the back of his mind to be discussed with his Pakistani interlocutors before progressing on the Taliban front. Those three issues are still pressing today and prevent any meaning growth in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations:

India:

For years, Pakistan has been complaining about the “Indian consulates” in Afghanistan’s border provinces, which are believed to be supporting the Taliban militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas and Baloch separatists in Balochistan province. Pakistan wants Afghanistan to end the Indian presence on its soil.

In his parleys in Islamabad and Kabul, Ghani assured his Pakistani interlocutors that his country’s soil will not be used against Pakistan. However, the reconstruction projects — such as roads, schools, and hospitals — undertaken by India as well as the economic partnership between India and Afghanistan under the 2011 Strategic Partnership Agreement will continue.

Ghani welcomed Pakistan’s role in undertaking reconstruction projects and as a gesture of goodwill, dispatched a group of six Afghan army cadets for training in Pakistan days after his visit to Islamabad.

Water:

During the Islamabad discussions, Pakistan’s second demand was to ink a bilateral agreement to guarantee Pakistan’s water needs. At the moment, there is no water sharing agreement between the two countries.

Before an estimated 17 million acre-feet of water from the Kabul River enters the northern parts of Pakistan, it passes through Kunar and Jalalabad provinces of Afghanistan. There are four major hydro-electric dams on the Kabul River basin and Afghanistan is planning to construct over a dozen more with the capacity of 4.7 million acre-feet. If implemented, the projects will cause a 16 to 17 percent drop in water flow from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

To alleviate Pakistan’s concerns about riparian rights, Ghani asked Pakistan to invest in dam construction projects in Kunar, Nangarhar, and Nuristan provinces with a design to meet Afghanistan’s increasing energy needs and allow the rest of the water to flow into Pakistan to save Pakistan’s rivers from drying up.

Border:

Pakistan’s third and most important concern regarding Afghanistan is the border, which divides the Pashtun population of the two countries. The Durand Line — the 2,640 kilometer (1,640 mile) border named after the British foreign secretary who signed the agreement with Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan in 1893 — has still not been officially recognized by Afghanistan as the international border.

Pakistan has deep concerns regarding Afghanistan’s claim that its territory extends passed the existing Pakistan-Afghan border up to the Indus River, which runs through the center of Pakistan. In addition, the original 100-year timeline on the Durand Line expired in 1993, leading many Afghans to pressure the government into a new solution.

Delivering a speech during at seminar in Kabul on Sept. 8, Karzai, who opposed Ghani’s new approach towards Pakistan, said that Pakistan had sped up efforts to recognize the Durand Line as an international border.

Although Ghani’s administration did not issue any clear statement about the border, insiders who spoke with the author say a proposal has been presented to sign an agreement for another 100 years on the existing status of the border, provided Pakistan assures Afghanistan easy access to the Arabian Sea port in Karachi via its land route. (The majority of Afghanistan’s exports and imports pass through Karachi’s port.)

Although Ghani’s pivot to Pakistan had considerably filled the trust gap between the two neighbors, the recent string of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan has almost reversed the process. Had the two sides agreed to move on the three key issues, it would be easier to jointly address the issue of terrorism, which has been hampering the progress of this naturally rich and geographically important region.

Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images

Daud Khattak is a senior editor of Radio Mashaal for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent those of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Twitter: @daudkhattak1

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