Shadows of the past
Ayaz Wazir
April 15, 2015

After years of mutual distrust Afghanistan and Pakistan now seem to be moving in the right direction. Leaders of the two countries have recently repeatedly said that they will leave no stone unturned to bring the two capitals closer for a peaceful solution of the problems that have devastated the region for so long and also soured relations between the two countries.

With the leaders setting the tone for reconciliation and peace, others in the corridors of power are following suit and doing their bit for smoothing the rough edges in bilateral relations, border management and the return of Afghan refugees in an honourable and dignified manner.

The prevailing conducive atmosphere has made it easier for those privy to important, but hitherto undisclosed information, to bring it to the fore so that some erroneous perceptions that negatively impact relations between the two countries are dispelled. It was in this background that a distinguished Afghan delegate to a conference on achieving peaceful and prosperous bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan made a startling disclosure about the sequence of events that took place in the UN General Assembly in 1948 at the time Pakistan applied for membership.

A lot has been written about Afghan opposition to the membership but nowhere has one come across anything like what the Afghan delegate mentioned in his presentation to the conference in Islamabad the other day. The facts relating to that incident, according to him, are that his country’s permanent representative in New York did not have any instructions from Kabul when Pakistan applied for UN membership. In the absence of any instructions he was not clear what his response should be.

In view of the fact that in those days communications were not as rapid as they are today he could not reach his government on time. Therefore, he called his colleague in London to consult him. The advice given to him by his colleague was to use his own judgment and take action as deemed appropriate. As he had not received clear instructions from his government he preferred to abstain from voting rather than taking any clear position either way on the membership. That was not the stated position of the government but the decision of an individual.

Reportedly, Kabul was infuriated when it received news of its representative’s abstention from voting which created the impression that Afghanistan had reservations on Pakistan becoming a member of the world body. It immediately instructed its PR to withdraw his earlier stance and extend Afghanistan’s support to Pakistan’s membership – which the PR did forthwith.

As this Afghan delegate put it, it was so unfortunate that this part of that episode did not get proper publicity for erasing the negative effects of the PR’s earlier actions. This explanation was given by none other than the former ambassador of Afghanistan. It left one with no choice than to accept his narrative of an event that has cast a pall on relations between the two for so many decades. He has promised to email me some documentary evidence supporting his assertion.

Bold steps to correct historical mistakes, by both sides, are needed if we want to remove irritants from our policies. Such steps should not only be taken but encouraged in order to get rid of such unwanted baggage of the past. Until we do that our relations will go one step forwards and two steps backwards.

Since the process of clearing the shadows of the past has been made by a friend from across the border we should also try to see where we have been wrong when Pakistan is accused of having played a part in spoiling relations. It has become a norm in Pakistan to claim that we are completely blameless and that all evil emanates solely from across our western border. We need to get rid of this frame of mind and admit our mistakes. Only then will we be able to make a correct and logical analysis of the situation we are in.

While Pakistan considers the Durand Line as sacrosanct and an established fact, the Afghans have reservations about it. The reason is that Pakistan violated its sanctity first when its war planes crossed the border into Afghanistan and bombed the Mughal Gai village. It is also a fact that Pakistan regretted that incident and offered compensation for damage caused but the Afghan government did not accept the offer and instead convened a traditional Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) to decide on future action by the government.

The jirga decided, among other things, that since Pakistan violated the Durand Line first, it remained no longer sacrosanct for the Afghans to respect. The violation of the border took place the same year that Pakistan applied for membership of the UN body. Therefore, it could possibly be seen as an act of retaliation which added fuel to fire in taking relations between the two to the lowest ebb at that time.

These two incidents have blighted our bilateral relations for the last so many years and will continue to haunt us irrespective of our efforts to the contrary – unless the two sides decide to come out with the facts and apologise, if need be, so that the bitter memories of the past are laid to rest once and for all.

The writer is a former ambassador.


Published in The News