“Don’t say you’re Pakistani here when people ask you where you’re from”, an Afghan colleague told me on the second day of my research trip to Kabul last year for an international think tank. “Maybe it would be better if you say you’re Indian. Here, people like Indians.” Curious, I asked him why Pakistanis were looked upon with such derision. His answer was one I heard many times whilst working in the country; “they don’t want Afghanistan to do well.”
There is little left to see in Kabul. The civil war and the war between the Taliban and Nato forces have ruined much of the city. There are an alarming amount of security check points everywhere, including outside our local supermarket where I was told there was an attack just days before my visit. The compounds and hotels where foreigners stay are kept in nondescript locations that look like rundown, old buildings until you get through the various levels of security which hide an often luxurious American-style building inside. Despite all this destruction, I saw the persevering nature of Afghans which reminded me of our own fortitude against the constant terrorist attacks in our country, our own civil war.
The already rocky relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been deteriorating over the past few years. The cracks have been deepening since Wikileaks revealed in 2010 what many had suspected for a long time, that the ISI had a hand in creating the Taliban and had backed them in the war in Afghanistan. These cracks turned into chasms in 2011 following the attacks in Afghanistan by the Haqqani Network. The foremost issue has been the insurgent proxies Pakistan has allegedly used to make attacks in the country, as well as its purported shielding of key leaders of the Taliban and Haqqani Network on its soil.
It is alleged that the Taliban has been instrumental to Pakistan’s policy of keeping India and Afghanistan apart. It fears Indian presence in Afghanistan will be exploited to create more unrest in Balochistan and destabilise Pakistan entirely. However, a policy like this would have to be counterbalanced with a public image of being firmly against terrorism to mollify our friends in Washington. This balancing act has not been successful. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2011 that “in choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI, jeopardises not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence.”
India’s presence in Afghanistan is also being cemented through trade agreements between the two countries. India’s emphasis on trade and not aid has paid off to what some would think an unfortunate disadvantage of Pakistan for whom this is a bad dream come true. The influence of India in the South Asian region is palpable in Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan. I met many Afghans who had taught themselves rudimentary Hindi through the watching of Bollywood films and the only person I remember seeing on any billboards in Kabul, apart from Ahmed Shah Masood, a national hero, was Katrina Kaif.
Pakistan has been compared to Dr Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s novel. It seems to have abetted the creation of a monster it can no longer control. Its intelligence agencies seem to be treading a fine line in addressing these complaints as it can either claim it has no control over the proxies, a dangerous answer in many ways, or, if it is in control, it is automatically complicit in their actions. Neither of these answers will be well received on Capitol Hill. The latest government tactic to be employed is denial of any contrary motive. Hina Rabbani Khar, in talks with her Afghan counterpart in December 2012, dismissed any notion that Pakistan wanted to have a hand in Afghanistan. This may have been in response to President Karzai’s plea in October for Pakistan to stop its role in Afghanistan’s destruction.
Many Pakistanis have a quixotic view of their role in Afghanistan preferring to focus on providing refuge to millions of Afghanis as conclusive evidence of the fact that they are an ally to the country. Whilst Pakistan has often talked the talk regarding the relationship with Afghanistan, it has rarely been backed by conclusive actions. Recent talks in a UK summit attended by the Presidents of both countries and hosted by the British Prime Minister have announced plans to aim for peace within six months. The representatives hoped for signed agreements later this year which would strengthen trade and economic connections between the countries. It is hoped that these codified collaborations would help to accelerate this much needed peace in the region.