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An Afghan sojourn


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-Photo by author.
-Photo by author.

“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.


The writer works for an international think tank which focuses on security policy in Afghanistan.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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The writer was previously working for an NGO in Islamabad and is currently based in Juba, South Sudan.

She tweets @AyeshaAMalik

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (36) Closed

Mian Mithu Feb 11, 2013 05:44pm
Afghans have always had a problem with Pakistan. Not because of any so called Afghan policy on the part of the Pakistanis but rather since 1947 and the creation of Pakistan. Even before if you look at the history of muslims in the subcontinent and FATA the Afghan state has always been treacherous. I for one have no sympathy for the Afghan view. Our biggest mistake was to become part of the anti-soviet strategy. We should have let the Soviet Union annex Afghanistan for all intents and purposes. We should have shut off all support for the so-called Mujahideen and blocked so-called refugees from entering our country. They have spread guns, narco, been an environmental disaster, spread militant ideology, hatred and generally have been parasites on Pakistan. Don't be fooled by the use of "brotherly" superlatives. With "brothers" like them we don't need enemies.
Chulbul Pandey Feb 11, 2013 06:12pm
Iqbal Khan ji, How are you feeding Afghanis? Afghani people are very resilient and hard working. Besides, Pakistan cannot run away from its share of meddling in the state of Afghanistan. Now, If Pakistan is left with a lot of refugees, it is it's moral responsibility to take them in. Sincerely!
Adil Feb 11, 2013 06:26pm
two complicated countries Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistani342 Feb 12, 2013 06:22pm
@IBN-E-ASHFAQUE seriously ??? have you read the results of any of the surverys?
faisal Feb 11, 2013 12:00pm
Habib salaami (@habib_salaami) Feb 11, 2013 05:53pm
this article is absolutely disgusting, First you had to figure out who supported Taliban, where they came from, and from which soil they are operating?
Khan Feb 11, 2013 02:55pm
Another india inspired writer of Dawn who's writes after watching Indian propaganda on TV irrespective of that why we are sheltering and feeding these thankless afgh
Aniket Feb 12, 2013 08:42am
Could that be because you, Mr. Durrani, are yourself a Pashtun?
C Bhattacharya, INDIA Feb 12, 2013 08:30am
You are not only beautiful but also has a clear and beautiful thinking power.
yusuf khan Feb 12, 2013 04:35am
Perhaps you are living in a fool's paradise... wake up and experience the reality.
HNY2013 Feb 12, 2013 04:30pm
The destiny of Pakistan and Afghanistan throughout the last 2000 years of history is intertwined...........there was No Pakistan before 1947.
masa Feb 12, 2013 04:51am
An Afgani news reporter said on Pakistani TV channel in live programme ( I can name it) " 95% Afgans hate Pakistanis" . These are the exact words.....Ahmed.. Please allow yourself some introspection brings best in oneself.
fitnfun007 Feb 12, 2013 07:14am
Ayesha, a very nice article. Hope to see more of these. People who were busy setting other peoples houses on fire did not expect their own house to catch fire !!!!!
a.k.lal Feb 12, 2013 04:48am
In US, Pakistanis routinely call themselves Indian.
IBN-E-ASHFAQUE Feb 12, 2013 04:56am
A small section of Afghans particularly those tied to the current establishment in Afghanistan cannot be happy with Pakistan and that is understandable, as their days are numbered. However, I have interacted with Afghans both in and mostly out of Pakistan and they consider Pakistanis as their brothers and vice-versa. The destiny of Pakistan and Afghanistan throughout the last 2000 years of history is intertwined. Once foreigners leave this region, Pakistan and Afghanistan's economy is poised to take a big leap forward. The Durand line an artificial construct will gradually fade away not so much in a physical manner but in a social, political and economic sense.
vishmed Feb 12, 2013 01:45pm
If Afghan refugees are sent back, Pakistan economy could collapse, as funds from international aid agencies would stop. So actually Afghan 'refugees' are beneficial to Pakistan.
vishmed Feb 12, 2013 01:40pm
The author has mentioned the nationality of her colleague as Afghan
Mohsin Feb 12, 2013 02:06pm
wishing wont bring any good. Who and what is stopping you from making your dream come true.
Ahmad Feb 11, 2013 11:00pm
I am not surprised by your experience. Pakistan's Afghan Policy like any other is directed and formulated by Custodians of our borders and there is not much evidance on the contrary. For our custodians, ths is a game, an ideological game in which, human feeling especially those of Civilians does not matter.
Ajay Vikram Singh Feb 12, 2013 02:34pm
We would love to welcome Afghans in india. Not only Afghans but pakistanis too.
tariq malik Feb 11, 2013 05:27pm
To begin with i say you to at least disclose the nationality of your colleague who told you this?... i have many reasons to ponder on ur intellectual ability, The Afghan don't like Pakistani because :- - We helped them go free from soviet clutches. - we gave them place to live once their country was in taters. -100% transit trade is being done trough us. Afghans love Indian because:- - They have seen Indian movies. Now come back in ur senses and at least dont waste ur time visiting as part of think thanks once you don't carry a vision. this is the time once Allies are leaving and Indians after having found no other way to seek role have adopted another way of fooling people like you and using them the way u r being used.
Rao Feb 11, 2013 01:05pm
What else can you expect? India has built hospitals, roads, Parliament building...trained their administrators, security personnel and looking to invest in their mining sector in addition to its soft power of Bollywood. Pakistan has done none of these and instead tried to destroy what is being built thro' their proxies Haqqani network.
tariq malik Feb 12, 2013 02:03pm
Please ask Indians to take afghans from our country and feed them in urs and make them watch movies and enjoy their company.
Ahmed Durrani Feb 11, 2013 11:51am
I am sorry, but this is Absolute Non Sense, I have travelled frequently to Kabul and deeper parts of Northern and Southern Afghanistan. My last visit being less than a year ago. People on the streets welcome you as a Pakistani, understand what the real issues are at the Goverment Level and also fully take into the account the support and help rendered to the millions of Afghan's on Pakistani soil. Also, the first Para, where an Afghani suggested to the writer to identify herself as an Indian is a Joke or maybe was pulling the writers leg, and i say this with full command due to extensive visits where professional and personal relationships were involved.
Mohsin Feb 12, 2013 02:04pm
whats stopping you from doing that?
gary Feb 11, 2013 12:11pm
Muhammad Rehan Ghazi Feb 11, 2013 12:49pm
I must say Ayesha, that you are a very brave human being. I am a Pakistani and live is Islamabad but would never set foot on Afghan soil. The only reason is that, Afghanistan is an extremely dangerous place for almost everyone but in particular Pakistanis. Pakistan's Afghan Policy has been catastrophic to say the least. I wish that peace must return to Afghanistan very soon and all Afghans can return back to their motherland. But, I fear that it will remain a distant dream.
Tahir Feb 11, 2013 01:19pm
Nicely and simply expressed write-up. OK then, where do we go from here. It seems we never learn lessons because of our inherent Musalman Bhai attitude and blind faith in our sentiments whether for wrong or for right. Damage to Pakistan was done long time back after the free passport of right of abode in Pakistan to millions of Afghans.
Mohsin Feb 12, 2013 02:09pm
Return all the funds you received from UNO in name of helping us Afghans.
Iqbal khan Feb 11, 2013 11:11am
....and we are feeding millions of Afghanis in. Pakistan?
Sey Feb 11, 2013 02:06pm
@faisal ... a lot of Afghans (if not most) were neutralised, have Pakistani passports and ID cards so no we should not 'get rid' of them. Encourage them to contribute to our economy and treat them as fellow Pakistanis is what we should do! Pakistan has a lot to do to identify the difference between those living illegally and those who legally enter the country. There is no healthcare policy for example that defines the care levels to citizens vs non-citizens. I am not saying the quality and level shouldn't be equal but 'temporary' residents should not expect the same level as locals or pay a premium. There are a lot more examples one could quote. @Iqbal khan ... no you are not feeding millions of Afghans. There is no social setup for Pakistanis in the country let alone Afghans. They earn their wages and they feed their families, a lot that I know of are comparatively well off than the average middle-class Pakistani citizen and quite frankly the ones that are not will do the type of work that you wouldn't want to i.e. hawker stalls. I respect them for that. Yes we gave them a 'safe haven' when the Soviets invaded but their treatment by Pakistanis was/and continues to be appalling. Even when we had UN funds being pumped into our country to support the refugees ... ... when visiting their country expect them to treat you as you treated them ...
raika45 Feb 11, 2013 12:12pm
The problem here is the animosity between Pakistan and India.Numerous wars among them including blaming India for the East Pakistan breakaway have led to this.It is time both countries come to an understanding that working jointly in Afghanistan will bring benefits to both.For that Pakistan's war lords have to muzzle the trouble creators like the taliban and who so ever they back.Relying too much on one party for help or aid like you do with China is not good for you in the long term.India is part of your previous heritage. You were family at one time.
Fahad Feb 11, 2013 04:07pm
Send back the 3 million Afghan refugees RIGHT NOW!!! If they are not interested in going to Afghanistan, then send them to India. Then we will know how good friends India is with Afghanistan...
indian Feb 11, 2013 03:36pm
Forget about journalism. Ms Mallik please come to bollywood. You are absolutely glamorous!!!!!
Indian Feb 11, 2013 03:26pm
Thank you for showing a mirror to misplaced Pakistani egos. This is exactly the case in other western countries as well. If you say you are a Pakistani at a party, people slowly drift away from you. That's the reality - people can disagree and make tall claims but the reality is that Pakistan and Pakistanis are getting isolated in the world and the worst part is that they are themselves responsible for it.
akbar bajwa Feb 11, 2013 02:40pm
quite a logical argument. i wonder who are the one disliking it? And importantly on the basis of what?