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Editorial: Pak-Afghan Divide

The neighboring nations have little choice but to resolve their differences for the benefit of each other’s citizenry

by Editorial

The 2,600km border fence on the Durand Line. Photograph by Nazar Ul Islam

According to interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, terrorism in Pakistan has spiked by 60 percent since the Afghan Taliban returned to power in 2021, while suicide attacks have increased by 500 percent. Addressing a press conference in November, he said 2,267 Pakistanis had lost their lives in these attacks, adding the interim Afghan government had failed to take any steps against the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) using its soil to stage attacks inside Pakistan despite repeated requests. This, he explained, was one of the reasons for Pakistan seeking the repatriation of undocumented migrants to Afghanistan, which is ongoing.

Since the launch of the repatriation drive, Kabul has lamented the “cruelty” of Pakistani authorities in tackling the refugees, while urging Islamabad to fix its “internal security challenges” rather than cast blame. Acting Afghan Defense Minister Mullah Muhammad Yaqub Mujahid went so far as to claim the majority of attacks within Pakistan were perpetrated by Tajiks and Pakistanis—though did not provide any evidence to prove this. Unsurprisingly, the back-and-forth has deteriorated ties between the neighboring nations, with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman currently undertaking a trip to Kabul in a bid to improve relations.

Regardless of the outcome of Fazl’s visit, it is undeniable that Pakistan and Afghanistan have several pending issues. The contested Durand Line is a longstanding point of contention, considered the international border by Pakistan but unrecognized by Afghanistan. Pakistan’s role in the Soviet occupation, and subsequently the war on terror, has encouraged an impression of Islamabad “meddling in Afghan affairs” among Afghans, fomenting difficulties and resentment. This has led to the development of a strong anti-Pakistani sentiment in Afghanistan that parallels Islamabad’s view of Kabul “cooperating” with India against Pakistan, and allowing anti-Pakistani militants to operate from Afghan territory.

The fact of the matter is that neither state can afford to alienate the other for long. Pakistan needs a stable Afghanistan to curb the terrorism emanating from its soil, while Kabul needs Islamabad to maintain a degree of economic viability as its primary trading partner. If the neighbors are unable to reach a détente—and soon—no one will suffer more than the citizens who are already facing the brunt of economic concerns and militancy.

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