Pak-Afghan Relations: Basics of Initial Differences


With the establishment of Durand Line, Pakistan and Afghan began sharing 2,240 km long border which not only divided the territorial area, but the society and politics as well which haunt largely even today the relations between them as since then, it remained throughout a bone of contention and likely to continue in future. It was demarcated in 1893, as a result of the Durand Line Agreement between Mortimer Durand of colonial British India and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan, basically to fix their respective sphere of influence. In this one-page document having seven articles demarcated the regions of political influence of both powers – British Indian Empire and Afghanistan and there was no controversy till the Britishers remained in India.

In 1947, the Indian sub-continent partitioned in two parts-India and Pakistan and the later became the bordering country of Afghanistan, similar in geography, ethnicity, religion and faith but making peace and security as essential ingredient for the development of the region. Pakistan, after its formation, inherited this issue in legacy and they neither accepted the line of demarcation nor signed any formal agreement or ratified the document agreed earlier. Because the line divided the Pashtuns of the region in two parts being in Pakistan and Afghanistan respectively, both claimed whole of Pashtunistan in their side and the approach left them to be sided with regional as well as global powers keeping in their security perspectives in view.

In the attempt Afghanistan adopted two-pronged strategy a. strongly aligned with India and Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), and b. politically and financially it backed secessionist forces and leaders to foment trouble in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Afghan king had delivered several anti-Pakistan speeches and expressed his feeling and attitude towards the country. In response, Pakistan too, aligned itself with the United States of America and other forces opposite to India and USSR.

Society and ethnicity

The Pashto-speaking people of the region who lived there since the 1st Millennium BC had been clearly divided by the demarcation of Durand Line drawn by the then Amir of Afghanistan and representative of British India, Mortimer Durand. The eastern and southern part of Afghanistan is primarily full of Pashtun people who speak the same language as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and northern Baluchistan regions in Pakistan.

Earlier, during 1940s when it became clear that Britishers are about to withdraw from the subcontinent, the Government of Afghanistan demanded the British to consider the whole Pashto-speaking area as Pathan country and the Indus be handover to the authority of Afghanistan or let the people of NWFP to decide the choice of their independence, although, not materialised, Kabul since then championing the role of establishing ’Pakhtoonistan’ on the basis of ethnicity, while the conducted referendum went against the wish of the then Afghan Government.

Despite these, in the year 1952, Zahir Shah, in a speech expressed his desire to have friendly relations with Pakistan, but refused to overlook the issue of Pashtunistan, while two years later Pakistan joining military pact with the United States of America in 1954, brought Afghanistan nearer to the Soviet Union in spite of maintaining non-aligned status in the comity of nations. In this period of Cold War America viewed Russia as its rival in Afghanistan and the former had rejected Kabul’s plea that arms aid to Pakistan by the US might create a power vacuum in the country and simultaneously, Washington also refused to entertain Kabul’s request for arms support. The rise to power of Sardar Daud, cousin of Afghan monarch and an ardent supporter of Pakhtoonistan movement and Islamabad’s joining SEATO and CENTO emerged as fresh irritants between the two countries.

Global powers as a factor in Pak-Afghan relations

Apart from inheritance of Durand Line dispute between the two, interference of super powers of the time-USA and USSR, affected to a large extent, Kabul-Islamabad relations in coming years and decades. By the year 1954-55 it became clear that Afghanistan is aligned with Soviet Union while Pakistan has attached its fate with United States and this development paved the wat for further action and reaction on the part of Kabul and Islamabad. In view of disturbances sponsored by Afghanistan, in the year 1955 Pakistan made a major shift in its administrative set-up and implemented, ‘one-unit scheme’ which incorporated all provinces of Pakistan in a single unit while its eastern part, now Bangladesh was made another unit to keep the country intact and maintain internal security.

The ‘one-unit scheme’ as implemented was vehemently opposed by Afghanistan as it ended the dominance of Pathans in Northwest Province and mass rallies and protests were instigated inside Afghanistan resulting in sacking of embassies, consulates, as well as insulting of national flags in both countries and when situation deteriorated at the lowest point, the US fearing Russian interference, came forward and help kept their relations on normal track. However, perhaps in response, Russian leaders-Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin paid a highly publicised visit to India and Afghanistan against the rising influence of the US in the region. Visit apart, they declared India’s support on Kashmir issue while announced Afghanistan’s backing on Pakhtoonistan, pledged 100-million-dollar economic aid along with offering military assistance. In general, the visit and announcements made in course of the tour indicated the entry of a new player in the region to have a far-reaching impact on relations of countries.

Positive movements

In between the strained relations and viewing that Kabul is going to be attached with the Soviet Union, in later half of the 1950s many countries including US, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia tried to normalise Pak-Afghan relations and hoped normal diplomatic channels to work properly in right and prospective directions. Their efforts opened a new chapter in their relations when Pakistan’s president Iskandar Mirza visited Afghanistan in August 1956 and it followed next year (1957), the Kabul tour of Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. From Afghanistan’s side it was reciprocated in the same way and Afghan ruler King Zahir Shah went on an official tour in 1958, followed by Sardar Daud Khan, the Prime Minister in 1959.

As a result of these visits from both sides a good understanding of relations prevailed between them and they agreed to concede US suggestion which paved the way for several infrastructural developments in Kabul and Islamabad, costing 30 million US dollar borne by the United States. However, according to Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan the ruler of Afghanistan was convinced that Soviet Russia will win the Cold War against the US and hence, it gradually aligned to the Kremlin and it, in response, developed several roads and other infrastructures that were essential more for USSR than for Kabul, and all these works pushed Afghanistan towards the Soviet Union in days to come.

Author: Dr. Rajkumar Singh is presently Professor and Head, Department of Political Science and Dean of Social Sciences at B.N. Mandal University, Madhepura (Bihar), India. His 20 books published in addition to 900 articles in national and international journals and daily newspapers from 25 foreign countries.

By Dr.Rajkumar Singh