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Diplomatic Struggle: Pakistan and Afghanistan Seek Elusive Peace

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Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have escalated significantly, with both countries experiencing heightened violence and political friction. The historical context, current dynamics, and potential consequences of the deteriorating relationship between these neighboring nations.

Historical Context: The Durand Line Dispute

The root of the discord between Pakistan and Afghanistan lies in the colonial-era Durand Line, a 1,640-mile border established in 1893. Afghanistan has never officially recognized this boundary, and the Taliban has taken a particularly aggressive stance against it. The border cuts through tribal areas dominated by the Pashtuns, creating a complex ethnic and political landscape. Numerous skirmishes have erupted over border fencing, further straining relations.

Recent Developments: Cross-Border Violence and Military Operations

Surge in Violence

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in violence since the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group allied with the Afghan Taliban, ended a ceasefire with Islamabad in November 2022. The year 2023 alone saw over 700 attacks resulting in nearly 1,000 fatalities. Pakistan accuses the Afghan Taliban of providing sanctuary to TTP militants, exacerbating the security situation.

Pakistan’s Military Response

In response to the escalating threat, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif announced this week that Pakistan would continue launching cross-border attacks as part of a new military operation aimed at curbing terrorism. This marks a significant shift in Pakistan’s military strategy, which previously acknowledged only one such strike in March.

“We won’t serve them with cake and pastries. If attacked, we’ll attack back,” Asif told the BBC, underscoring the country’s hardened stance.

Underlying Issues: Border Disputes and Refugee Crisis

Unresolved Border Tensions

“No Afghan government, including the current Taliban regime, has recognized the [official] border since Pakistan’s independence,” says Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center. Both nations have historically accused each other of harboring terrorists who conduct cross-border attacks. The Taliban’s aggressive posture on the Durand Line has led to frequent border closures and heightened military tensions.

Refugee Expulsions

In an attempt to manage the security situation, Pakistan expelled over 500,000 Afghan refugees last October, with plans to expel an additional 800,000 this month. These expulsions reflect Pakistan’s efforts to pressure the Afghan government to cease its support for the TTP.

Diplomatic Efforts and Challenges

Despite the rising tensions, both countries are engaged in diplomatic discussions. Pakistan’s special envoy to Afghanistan recently met with Taliban representatives during U.N.-hosted talks in Doha. Additionally, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar announced plans to visit Kabul in the coming months. However, these diplomatic efforts face significant challenges.

“Border tensions are too contentious and complex to resolve anytime soon,” Kugelman notes. The continuation of Pakistan’s military operations could lead to more frequent and sustained conflicts along the disputed border.

External Influences: China’s Role

China’s involvement adds another layer of complexity to the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship. Beijing has significant leverage over the Taliban due to its capacity to invest in sanction-hit Afghanistan. Many Chinese nationals work on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects in Pakistan as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. In March, a suicide bomber, allegedly an Afghan national, killed five Chinese engineers in northwest Pakistan, prompting Beijing to pressure Islamabad for action.

“If Beijing, dangling that incentive of investment assistance, is able to convince the Taliban to curb militancy, both domestically focused in Afghanistan and cross-border in Pakistan, that would help both China and Pakistan,” Kugelman explains.

The Path Ahead

The evolving dynamics between Pakistan and Afghanistan are marked by historical grievances, strategic military operations, and the influence of external actors like China. While diplomatic channels remain open, the path to resolving the deep-seated issues between the two countries is fraught with challenges. The future of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations will depend on both nations’ ability to navigate these complexities and find common ground for peace and stability.

Saeed Minhas
Saeed Minhas
Saeed Minhas is an accomplished journalist with extensive experience in the field. He has held prominent positions such as Editor at Daily Times and Daily Duniya. Currently, he serves as the Chief Editor (National) at The Think Tank Journal

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