Central Asia Journal No. 64
Pakistan and Iran in Afghanistan:
From Soviet Intervention to the Fall of Taliban
Dr. Shabir Ahmad**
The present research paper deals with the triangular relationship of the three traditional friends and the neighboring Muslim countries, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The paper mainly focuses on Pak-Iran interests in Afghanistan. An attempt is made to explore the various turns and twists in Pak-Iran relations in Afghanistan. Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Iran were affected, derived and formed by their interest based policies in Afghanistan. The significance of the research paper will stem from the differences between these two traditional friends since the emergence of Taliban in Afghanistan, and, consequently, the fall of Taliban was followed by their gradual improvement in their bilateral mutual relationship.
It is the most important current issue which establishes the brotherly relationship between the three traditional friends, and neighboring Muslim Countries, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are connected with each other by close geographical proximity, common heritage and deep socio-cultural and ethno-linguistic affinities. All these factors have made Iran and Pakistan an eternal and enduring friends since the emergence of Pakistan in 1947. The paper analyzes their common interests and similar policies on various regional and international issues. But Pakistan’s relation with its North-Western neighbor, Afghanistan remained at lowest ebb since its inception. The paper discusses the Pakhtoonistan issue which proved an irritating factor in Pak-Afghan relations.
The paper further highlights their common concerns and policies regarding the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and its grave implication on both Pakistan and Iran. Their different geo-strategic perception and contradictory policies regarding Afghanistan since the Soviet’s withdrawal also form the part of the paper. The paper mainly concentrates on the emergence of Taliban in Afghanistan which proves a suicidal factor in Pak-Iran relations. In addition, their conflicting interests and varying views and their support for the opposite factions in Afghanistan made them a virtual rivals, and strong competitors. And above all, the change in Pakistan’s policy towards Taliban since 9//11 provided both the countries with an opportunity to mend their differences and to accommodate each other’s interest in Afghanistan. The paper primarily focuses on the policy convergence of these two countries (Pakistan and Iran) in Afghanistan and the considerable improvement in their bilateral mutual relationship in the period cited above.
An analytical method is used to determine the nature and significance of the various statements made by the public authorities of the two countries. In this respect, various issues, events and developments may be analyzed concerning the policies of the two countries (Pakistan and Iran) in Afghanistan. Moreover, the underlying factors have been examined and analyzed which resulted convergence and divergence in their mutual relationship and the pursuit of interests in Afghanistan.
Since ancient period, Iran, Afghanistan and the areas now called Pakistan have been tied in a strong bond of friendship. Before Nadir Shah’s Rule, Afghanistan was not an independent country with a present geographical status. Southern Afghanistan was the part of Iranian Province of Khurasan. Even before the advent of western imperialism in the 17th century, boundaries between Iran, Sub-continent and Afghanistan were loosely demarcated, and the demographic movements were quite frequent. Cultural, social traditional and religious bonds connected the people of these three countries. Over centuries, the relations between Iran and the areas now famed Pakistan are rooted in the same moral valves and common ideals of Islam, which provides the foundation of continued and perpetual cooperation between the two countries. Gandahara what may be described in modern times as Peshawar Valley including the district of Swat, Buner and extending up to Taxilla was the part of Iran. Active commercial relations between Iran and the Indo-Pak Sub-continent started during the time of Abbasid period which reached its zenith during the Mughal rule in India.
Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan were the part of the historical Silk Route which provides trade route to the regional states, especially, the Central Asian States. The historical pattern of migration, market integration and interdependence of local communities and their trans-border networks have significance beyond the calculus of national interest. With the introduction of contemporary diplomatic system, which commenced after the World War-II, the three regions (Iran, Afghanistan and Indo-Pak Sub-continent) have revived their historical relations.
But Pakistan’s relations with Iran became more strengthened and consolidated since its independence, in 1947. Shared geographical proximity, common history, and deep socio-cultural affinities were the numerous factors that brought these two countries close to each other. Iran was the first country which recognized Pakistan after its independence in 1947 and supported Pakistan’s entry into United Nations. Diplomatic relations were established between the two countries when the Government of Pakistan appointed its first ambassador Raja Gazanfar Ali Khan to Iran in May, 1948. The first treaty of friendship and cooperation was signed between the two countries in February 19, 1950, providing for a good neighborly relations and for a most favored nation treatment between the two countries. From the very start of their relationship, the convergence of interests, common approaches and mutual understanding on most on the regional and international issues have made these countries a permanent friends, allies and partners. Collaboration with Iran is essential to Pakistan’s defense strategy because Pakistan lacks depth and the only country which has provided depth was Iran. Friendship with Iran greatly enhanced Pakistan’s position both at the regional and global level, and made stronger politically, diplomatically and militarily vis-à-vis it’s over ambitious adversary, India.
But Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan have not been cordial in spite of the geographical contiguity, common religion, and same cultural and economic interests. It is the Pakhtoonistan issue---a legacy of the colonial role in Asia---that provides us a basis for understanding the strained relations between the two Muslim states. Afghanistan was the only country which voted against Pakistan’s admission in the United Nation on the plea that it did not recognize NWFP as the integral part of Pakistan. The relations between the two countries became tense on this issue that in 1949 the Afghan National Assembly passed a resolution repudiating all treaties, conventions and agreements concluded between Afghanistan and British India, thus rejecting the Durand Line formally. In November 1955, the Afghanistan Grand National Assembly adopted a resolution stipulating the non-recognition of Pakhtoon territories as the part of Pakistan. Dr. Syed Salahuddin in his book, The Foreign Policy of Pakistan, A Critical Analysis, has remarked that the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan became so tense and worse on this issue that in 1960 Pakistani Embassy in Kabul and Consulate in Qandahar, and Jalalabad were attacked and Pakistan’s flag was molested. In response, Pakistan imposed trade embargo on Afghan goods in the checkered history of the states.
Friendship of Iran proved constructive due to the mediation of Shah of Iran, who succeeded normalizing relations between the two countries, when he visited Islamabad and Kabul in June-July 1962, which was accepted the President of Pakistan Ayub Khan. Shah’s good offices produced good and positive results when, in May-1963, trade relations between these two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan) were restored. Again Shah’s effort brought positive results when he was succeeded to normalize the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan which became deteriorated after the ascendancy of Sardar Mohammad Daud. This time Shah increased its influence on Afghanistan by providing 2-billion $ economic aid to Afghanistan. An atmosphere was created in which the normalization of Pak-Afghan relations became imminent. Referring to Shah’s initiatives in this respect S.R Chauri says, the Shah of Iran pushed Pakistani and Afghani leaders to the negotiating table to search for peaceful ways to end their 30-years old hostility.
Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan and its Implications on Pak-Iran Relations
The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan toward the end of 1979, produced the convergence of strategic purpose, as both the countries (Pakistan and Iran) received the flood of Afghan refugees. Geographically, Pakistan and Iran are the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan. Pakistan shares (2450-km) border with Afghanistan, it is the longest of the six countries encircling Afghanistan, while Iran shares (936 km) border with Afghanistan. Both countries have a common concerns and perceptions regarding Afghanistan. They shared a common stance in opposing Moscow’s incursion into Afghanistan. The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan posed serious security, political, social, and economic problems for both Iran and Pakistan. The leaders of the two countries (Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran and General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan), raised an identical voice, calling for the immediate and the total withdrawal of Soviet forces, and the restoration of the Sovereign and Islamic Government in Afghanistan. The Government of Pakistan highly appreciated the moral and political support rendered by Iran in Afghan crisis, and stated that this was a resplendent chapter in the annals of their friendship and cooperation.
Iran strongly condemned the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and declared its determination to help the Afghan Mujahideen. Khomeini denounced the Soviet move as a “brutal intervention”.... by looters and occupiers, and a threat to Iran. He criticized the Soviet Union and urged the Muslim world to enter into defense pact in order to pull back Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Although, Iran did not played an active role in Afghanistan due to its internal problems, and also its pre-occupation with Iran-Iraq war, which lasted till 1988. However, situation in Afghanistan posed a serious danger to the security of Iran, as the result of direct military threat from Soviet Union.
Keeping in view, the prevailing anarchic political situation in Iran, many observers thought that Iran may possibly be the second Soviet target after Afghanistan. It was observed that Moscow had positioned its 80000 to 100000 troops in Afghanistan in the West along the Iranian border where there was a relatively minor resistance. The forces were highly equipped and were mobilized on Iranian border. One can hardly account for any other rationale of such a huge deployment of force. At the same time it was felt that once Russians consolidated themselves in Afghanistan, they would certainly move further. Importance of Afghanistan for Pakistan can hardly be underestimated. It is certainly Pakistan’s first line of defense from the north. Pakistan was directly facing political, strategic, and economic consequences of Afghan war. Politically, it was facing immense pressure from Soviet Union for providing help to the refugees and Afghan Mujahideen. Economically, it was bearing a burden of more than two millions Afghan refugees, and strategically, it was facing a direct military threat from Soviet Union, often violating its space by Russian planes and helicopters.
In fact, in the wake of Afghan war Russia had been following a “Carrot and Stick Policy” towards Pakistan, sometimes offering economic and technical assistance, and other time, threatening its independence. Gromyko, the then Foreign Minister of Russia had warned Pakistan in clear words that “it will lose its independence if it continues its present policy of supporting of Afghan Mujahideen in Afghanistan.” Contemporary changes in Afghanistan aimed at making Pakistan “an ideological spring boat” of Soviet for the region. Following its ‘Carrot and Stick Policy’ in a long run it would compel Pakistan to abandon long-standing support for Afghan Mujahideen, which will enable the Soviet Union to consolidate its hold on Afghanistan. Simultaneously, offering economic, military, and technical aid, paved way for the ideological encroachment with Pakistan under an apparent beneficial political, military and economic cooperation. Thus, in fact, the Soviet desired to bring Pakistan into the same trap in which Afghanistan had fallen.
The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan led the two countries (Pakistan and Iran) in a critical situation. Both were sailing in the same boat, the difference is only that Pakistan suffered a lot than Iran, and secondly, she played more active role than Iran in the Afghan war. Pakistan’s security is very much important to Iran. For this purpose, Iran’s interest in enhancing strategic cooperation with Pakistan with a view that Iranian borders are the borders of pace, love and friendship. Economically, both the countries suffered a lot due to the influx of Afghan refugees. During 1980-84, five million Afghans have migrated to Pakistan and Iran. Almost, the entire burden of sustaining the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet occupation had fallen on Pakistan, which had received a much larger number of Afghan refugees than Iran. The main organization of Afghan Mujahideen had their headquarters in Pakistan, which became the conduit for military equipment, as well as, humanitarian assistance to over three million Afghan refugees in the country.
The governments and the leadership of both Pakistan and Iran tried their best to seek the political solution of the problem; because their interests were at stake in the wake of Soviet intervention. In this regard, a frequent exchange of visits of the foreign ministers and high officials of the two countries took place from time to time with a view to identify their common views and opinions to find out ways and means for the political solution of the Afghan problem. To be contrary, Pakistan wanted to take Iran together in the resolution of the crisis. For that purpose, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Agha Shahi’s visit to Iran, on February 2, 1981, to seek its endorsement of Pakistan initiative for dialogue with Kabul/USSR, though a UN was a positive step. In addition, despite Iran’s’ refusal to take any part in the indirect Geneva talk on Afghanistan under the UN auspices since June 16, 1982, Pakistan made it a point clear that throughout the negotiations, Iran was kept fully informed about the developments in the said talks.
The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, to Pakistan on March 30, 1982 was a constructive step in this regard. A compete unanimity of views was found between the two parties on Afghan problem, during his two rounds of talks with his counterpart Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan, and also with President of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq. Similarly, the visit of Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan to Iran on November 20, 1982 and again, on September 11, 1984, signified the wide ranging cooperation between the two countries in Afghanistan. Consequently, a consensus developed between Iran and Pakistan on this sensitive issue, the common objective of the two being the earliest possible withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The diplomatic efforts to bring international pressure on Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan were coordinated by Islamabad, which finally culminated in the conclusion of Geneva Accords in 1988.
Since 1993, Afghanistan became a major area of concern for both Pakistan and Iran. Their varying perceptions and different approaches for the formation of the future Afghan government created misunderstanding, tension and confusion in Pak-Iran relations. At first, Iran played a minor role in Afghanistan due to its preoccupation with war with Iraq which lasted till 1988. But after the conclusion of Iran-Iraq war which coincided with the signing of Geneva Accord, Iran began to pay more attention to the developments inside Afghanistan. The Iranian activism vis-à-vis Afghanistan became a serious of tension between Islamabad and Tehran, which both the countries were trying hard to managed.
Pakistan played a leading role in promoting agreement among the different rival Afghan factions, first through Peshawar Accord of 1992, and then through Islamabad Accord of 1993. Both these accords were concluded with the support and participation of Iran, and Saudi Arab. The main objective of these accords was to end the strife among the different Afghan factions, thereby, creating a condition in which the Afghan refugees would return to their homes safely, and the task of reconstruction could be taken in their hands. But despite of these accords, factional fighting in Afghanistan continued, and more damages were done to the major Afghan towns as the result of the civil war during 1992-95, then during the long decade of Soviet occupation.
Divergence had already appeared in the policies of the two countries (Pakistan and Iran) since Peshawar Accord, which had been reinforced by Islamabad Accord. Professor Burhan-ud-din Rabbani was to relinquish the Presidency by the end of 1993, to replace by the multi-party administration, which was to hold the election of the democratic constituent government. The Iranian was complaining that until 1992, they were kept involved in the tripartite dialogue between Pakistan, Iran and Afghan Mujahideen. But later on, when the time came for discussion on the eve of Peshawar Accord of 1992, and especially, Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Kabul on April 29, 1993, they were ignored. The presence of Al-Faisal, the Saudi Intelligence Chief, as the only foreign official to go with Prime Minister to Kabul, despite the fact, that Iranian had sent Mir Mahmood Masavi, the former Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, a week before this development took place, as an open insult. Even Khomeini had condemned the Peshawar accord “as exchanging Russian for American domination.”
The policy makers in Islamabad believed that their need for depth in difference would be best served of the Pushtun speaking Afghan (Pukhtuns) kith and Kin of Pakistan’s own Pushtun in NWFP dominated the new government in Kabul. But Tehran favored the Farsi speaking and Shia tribes in the Western and Northern Afghanistan. Iran recognized the Afghan government headed by Prof. Burhan-ud-din Rabbani, while Pakistan did not accept it as the legitimate one. The first difference between Pakistan and Iran arouse when Rabbani refused to step down at the end of 1993. Iran continued to back him mainly because he was Persian speaking Tajik, while Pakistan felt this was the total violation of the Islamabad Accord, which had been further confirmed in Makkah.
The authority of the Rabbani regime was rapidly eroded as Hikmatyar and the leaders of other faction challenge it, and the civil war broke out between them. The situation became chaotic, as anarchy prevailed in Afghanistan and as a result, more refugees left the country. The situation became more worse when the unknown faction, Taliban, under the leadership of Mullah Umer, emerged in Qandahar with the dual objective to save Afghanistan form further disintegration, and, to introduce a purely Islamic government based on the principles of Shariah.
The relations between the two countries entered into rough and abnormal phase when an unknown faction, Taliban, emerged in Afghanistan, and within a short span of two years, became a leading political and military power of the country. According to Professor Dani, “the Taliban received their early education at Deeni Madrasas in Pakistan and were being supported by the religious elements in Pakistan. Dani claimed that the young students were being prepared for Jihad against whom; it was observed were not adhering to the moral code of Islam.
Regarding the origin of Taliban, two points of view are widely circulated. The first is ‘the Islamic point of view’, which highlights the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and the second, is the ‘the US point of view’. According to the Islamic point of view, Taliban had first come into force under the leadership of Mullah Umer, a well-known and respected Mujahid leader of the area, who successfully fought against the Soviet Union. After the fall of Najib, he got much popularity and assumed the religious role as the head of Madarsa. What followed than is better explained by Ralph Magnus and Eden Naby, in these words, “the chaos and lawlessness of the local lords, bandits, and drug dealers disrupted Mullah Umer and a number of like minded Mullahs and former Mujahideen .In July, 1994, a particular highway robbery and assault on women made Mullah Umer to assemble a force of his own group Taliban and former Afghan Mujahideen to punish criminals who were responsible for this inhume action. The effect of his action was electrifying public opinion, and other local commanders rallied round Taliban. They captured the Afghan border town Spin Boldak in October and Qandahar in November 1994, respectively after been invited by the local residents.
As for as the US point of view, it is generally believed the United States was a master-minded the creation of Taliban for serving its own interests in Afghanistan, most, on the similar pattern which it followed in organizing and training of Afghan Mujahideen to fight against Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This point of view, is however, credibly substantiate by Richard Mackenzie, Editor in Chief of Global News Services and a regular visitor of Afghanistan, who in his paper “the United States and Taliban” has successfully pointed out many realities behind the scene of US policy regarding Taliban. He asserted that “long before the Taliban began their thrust towards Kabul, the US officials had high aspirations.” They hoped that Taliban would serve the US supreme interest in Afghanistan.
The ideological difference between Iran and Taliban made them a natural rivals and strong competitors in Afghanistan. The Taliban was highly orthodox Sunni Islamic Movement while Iran is a Shia majority country. Hence, the emergence of Taliban is Afghanistan was mentally and psychologically unacceptable to Iran, and tried its best to crush and to root out their lasting influence from Afghanistan once for all. The emergence of Taliban in Afghanistan led a major divergence in Pak-Iran relations. Both (Pakistan and Iran) had different policies, perceptions, and approaches, with regard to Afghanistan. Pakistan was supporting the cause of Taliban, while Iran was a staunch supporter of Anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Their support for apposite factions made them natural rivals in the affairs of Afghanistan.
Pakistan was supporting Taliban in hope that they would have become a strong military force and their determination to establish their control over the major parts of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s policy of supporting Taliban, however, was based more on the anger and antagonism as they felt against Rabbani, who was instrumental in sacking Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul, than the genuine love for Taliban whose doctrine of interpretation of Shariah did not coincide with Islamabad. Pakistan’s moral, diplomatic, and material support to Taliban was based partly on the desire to protect and promote its own national interest. According to C. Plano and Roy Olton, “National interest is the fundamental objective and the ultimate determinant that guide the decision makers of the state, is typically a highly generalize conception of these elements that constitutes the state’s most vital needs.”
Dr. Goga an advisor to Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan remarked during a Press Conference in Peshawar in February, 1996, that Pakistan foreign policy was not very passive, implying that Pakistan was involved in the supply of arms and armaments to its favorite in Afghanistan. The main objective of Pakistan’s Foreign policy vis-à-vis Taliban have been;
a. Durable peace in a war-ravaged land;
b. A friendly government across its western border;
c. Repatriation of Afghan refuges;
d. Access to Central Asian markets;
Dr. Iffat Malik is of the view, that Iran has a several reasons of opposing Taliban. Apart from the ideological factor, the Iranian concern for Shia living in Afghanistan, of whom the largest group was Hazaras. Taliban have been accused of targeting Hazaras, even carrying out massacres against them. The obvious example was the murder of a prominent Hizb-e-Wahdat leader, Abdul Ali Mazari, while in their custody. Iran has also been accused that the drug-trafficking increased with the emergence of Taliban. According to General Zaeri, the Iranian Police Chief, around 147 tons of drugs being smuggled by Taliban has been seized in March, 1996.
More important than this essentially ‘human’ reason for Iran’s opposition to Taliban are geo-politics and economics. For Iran, Afghanistan is a gateway to Central Asia, while it would not wish to rule the country. Iran wanted the establishment of Pro-Iranian Government in Afghanistan, which allow it an easy and assured access to Central Asia. Hence, Iran did not recognize Taliban’s supreme control over most parts of Afghanistan. The geo-political reason for Iranian opposition to Taliban is linked to the Caspian Sea region and will be considered in movement. According to Iran, a counter informal alliance of USA, Saudi Arab, and Pakistan was emerged which support Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran was apprehended that in case of Taliban’s victory, they would defeat the pro-Iran Afghan factions, unify the country, and thus made Afghanistan an alternative gateway for Pakistan to Central Asia. This was the part of general policy of US to contain Iran. Hence Iran’s initial reaction to Taliban victory was to condemn it as the handiwork of Pak-US-Saudi.
Pak-Iran differences were increased when Taliban occupied the city of Heart in early 1995, and expelled pro-Iranian commander Ismail Khan from Heart and forced him to take refugee in Iran. This was realized by Tehran as Pakistan’s backed move to take over the area, which was traditionally within Iran’s sphere of influence. Afterwards, Iran and Pakistan supported the rival parties in their struggles for power. Moreover, Taliban’s success to capture of Kabul in September 1996, further strained Pak-Iran relations. After the capture of Kabul most parts of Afghanistan (about 90%) adjoining Pakistani border; came under their control. The government in Islamabad had no option but to give de-facto recognition to Taliban Government in Afghanistan. However, Iran continued to support the so-called Northern Alliance consisting the faction of Rabbani, Dostum and Shia Hizb-e-Wahdat, which had it’s headquarter at Mazar-i-Sharif.
The gulf between the two countries widened with the victories of Taliban and the defeat of pro-Iranian faction, Northern Alliance. The Iranian government and media openly criticized Pakistan for creating Taliban and stressing for the establishment of broad based multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan. Pakistan not only recognized the government of Taliban, but also pleaded for international community’s recognition of Taliban government in Afghanistan on the basis of ground realities. While Iran continued to support and recognize the Rabbani Government. On October 23, 1996, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati at a Press Conference in Tehran made it absolutely clear that his country continued to recognize only the Rabbani Government. It also emphasized the need for the establishment of broad-based government upholding the sovereignty, and territorial integrity and political independence of Afghanistan.
The differences between Iran and Pakistan touched their lowest ebb, in 1998, when the Taliban captured the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif (the Stronghold and the Headquarter of Northern Alliance), and killed a scores of Iranian diplomats allegedly supporting the cause of the Northern Alliance. The Iranian reaction became harsh and severe and this led to the open confrontation between Iran and Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Pakistan was condemned by Iran for supporting Taliban. Iran blamed Pakistan for its considerable influence over Taliban in Afghanistan. However, Pakistani analysts were of the view that Pakistan’s influence over Taliban in Afghanistan was exaggerated by Indian propaganda, whose objective was to project Pakistan as fundamentalist State by linking it with Taliban. The two armies (The Iranian and Taliban) stood eyeball to eyeball and there was grave possibility of conflict between them. What makes the situation so critical for Pakistan, is the opening warming of the Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamaini, asking Islamabad to stop backing the Taliban militia which has been told “to abandon its action which had led to catastrophe” In his statement from Radio Tehran, the Iranian Supreme leader said, “I have --- so far prevented the lightening of fire in the region which would be hard to extinguish. But all should not that a very great and wide danger is quite near.” It was really a strong reaction by the Iranian leader towards Pakistan. He called upon the people of Pakistan what he had said, was interference in Afghanistan by the segments of Pakistani Army.
M.S. Johari in his book, “the Taliban; Assent to Power” writes “that earlier the Iranian had seriously objected to not only to the political and diplomatic support to Taliban but also on the reports of the presence of Pakistani troops within Taliban militia. For instance, refugees from Mazar-e-Sharif reported that the Taliban were occupied by Pakistani fighter identifiable by their language and flag of the Muslim fundamentalist party aligned with Taliban.” The Mazar-e-Sharif incident led dire consequences for Pak-Iran relations. The Iranian turned hostile against Pakistan. The Iranian anger and hostility was obvious from several demonstrations which occurred in Tehran and other major Iranian cities, in which thousand of people took part and raised a slogans “death to America, death to Taliban, and death to Taliban’s backers.”
It is something discouraging and disappointing that, in October 1998, the security forces prompted Iran to pull sixty of its diplomats out of Pakistan. The Iranian press had a great misgiving about Taliban. They considered Taliban as the offspring of ISI, puppet and stooge of Pakistan. The Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazi told on Radio Tehran on his return from UN General Assembly that: “it is entirely natural to cut down the number of one diplomat in a country when their security is not assured.”
In the words of Syed Abdul Hassan Raeissassadat, the Former Director General of Khan-e-Farhang, Peshawar, “the Taliban factor in Pak-Iran relations proved suicidal for the geo-strategic and the economic interests of both the countries (Iran and Pakistan). It was a serious challenge and a root cause of divergence in Pak-Iran relations, which in turn, gave birth to other problems, confusion and tensions in their mutual bilateral relationship. Of these, the sectarian conflicts in Pakistan, Pak-Iran tussle and competition in Central Asia, and Iran’s growing and meaningful relations with India were outstanding. Of course Pakistan denied all the charges particularly its involvement of problem of some elements of its security agencies and official militia. The disagreement on Afghanistan was just one of the many jagged edges of a bilateral relationship that had been smooth more in ‘myth than in reality; on this particular issue between Pakistan and Iran. But from the real political point of view, Pakistan support to Taliban was not because of its competition with Iran but primarily because of the India against which Pakistan, as a matter of defense policy, had always tried to avoid two front threats in its northeast and northwest. Thus, it was the compulsion of Pakistan to recognize a friendly regime in the shape of Taliban in Afghanistan which was more a geo-political rather than the ideological requirement for Pakistan.
Not only had this, but the government of Nawaz Sharif tried its best to diffuse the tension between Kabul and Tehran, and persuade them for negotiation. For this purpose, the Prime Minister sent his Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, on a special mission to Tehran to resume the Iranian government that Pakistan would use all its influences with Taliban to obtain satisfaction of the Iranian demand for the return of its nationals and, the punishment of those guilty of the killing of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif. The Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met President Khatami in New York a few days later, and their talks brought about a significant breakthrough in ending the tension between them. They agreed that brotherly relations between the two countries are “precious” and precondition for maintaining a complete regional peace and stability. The main points of agreement between the two countries were discussed. The external forces were shaping the situation in Afghanistan, and it was agreed that the efforts should be made under the UN auspices to promote durable peace. As the two sides agreed to build on positive signals, and to maintain mutual friendship and trust.
The developments since the historic meeting have witnessed the continuation of positive trends. During this period, Pakistan also coordinated closely with the neighboring Iran with which it launched a joint mission to promote an Afghan peace process in June-July, 1998. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Shamshad, accordingly, visited Tehran in the first week of January 1999, for bilateral consultation with his Iranian counterpart; during his meeting he was also received by Foreign Minister and President. But unfortunately, the Iranian response to our earnest desires and patient efforts to improve bilateral relations had been rather luck-warm. Apart from this, the eliciting reaffirmation of Tehran’s support for UN Resolutions on Kashmir and reference to Afghan historical reality that discounts the utility of outside pressure in the evolution of government in Kabul, no convergence of views on Afghanistan seem to have emerged during these visits.
The scenario in Afghanistan took a dramatic turn after 9/11, when US declared war against Al Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan, which resulted in the fall of Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Mullah Omer and Osama Bin Laden, most wanted to USA, succeeded in fleeing the country, and thus, the Pro-US Government of Northern Alliance was installed in Afghanistan. The fall of Taliban (anti-Iranian) removed a major irritant in Pak-Iran relations. The new trends in the regional strategic dynamics necessitated Pak-Iran relations. But, more than, it was change in Pakistani policy towards Taliban in the wake of US led attack against Afghanistan that paved the way for new upward trends in Pak-Iran relations. Pakistan sided with the international coalition against Taliban, who were soon removed from the government in Kabul. The Taliban retreat led Pakistan and Iran to end their decade old strained relations and work for accommodating each other’s strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan.
Soon after the fall of Taliban in Afghanistan, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazi, paid a to day visit to Islamabad, during which he confirmed that both the countries had come to close to each other’s point of view on Afghan issue. Both agreed to help to each other for the establishment of broad based multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan under the auspices of United Nations. He said “we have removed our differences in our talks as we observe that Pakistan has changed its policy and agreed to play collective role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.” The fall of Taliban ushered a new era of cordiality, goodwill and cooperation in Pak-Iran relations. A statement of the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Abdul Sattar, in November 2001, “That the clouds are over and the sun is shinning over the skies of Pakistan and Iran” was meaningful and reflective of the new political development between them. Earlier, Iran has seriously objected to not only the political and diplomatic support of Pakistan to Taliban but also on the reports of the presence of Pakistani troops within Taliban militia.
Pakistan and Iran promised to forget their past differences in Afghanistan if any one and resolved to work jointly for the establishment of stable and durable government in Afghanistan, which would not only served the best interests of these countries, but, the interests of all the ethnic communities living inside Afghanistan. According to the Iranian scholar; “the 9/11 terrorist attack and the subsequent fall of Taliban in Afghanistan paved the way for mending of bilateral relations.” Both the countries are against the US bombardment in Afghanistan and resolved that the same should come to an end. Both the countries desire for peaceful, prosperous and harmonious Afghanistan. Such an understanding suits both the nations and helps greatly to ensure a complete stability in Afghanistan as well. They also retreated to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and their full support for Hamid Karzai’s interim government and Bonn Peace Process.
Pakistan and Iran are geo-politically important to the peace and stability in Afghanistan, a fact recognized not only by both countries but also by the extra-regional players. Thus, Pakistan and Iran in the context of new Afghan set up under Hamid Karzai can work together to be the real guarantors of Afghanistan’s reconstruction and security, which itself is very important for peace and prosperity for these countries. In fact, the convergence of interests and the policies of these two countries on Afghanistan could serve a strong basis for their future bilateral relationship. However, the US-Iran rivalry, the presence of the American forces in Afghanistan and Central Asia, Pakistan support to the US policies in Afghanistan and the bases and ports facilities provided by Pakistan, still casts doubts on the prospects of any long tem strong relations between Pakistan and Iran.
The triangular relationship of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan was disrupted since the inception of Pakistan, when Iran became Pakistan’s close friend and Afghanistan as its worse rival. The convergence of interests, common security concerns and policies, similar approaches and mutual understanding were the numerous factors which led Iran and Pakistan an enduring friends and allies. Moreover, Iranian help and full support to Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir and its two Indo-Pak wars proved a great source of courage, consolation, and satisfaction to Pakistan. Friendship with Iran proved time-tested which greatly enhance Pakistan’s international dignity and prestige against its over-ambitious rival, India. On the other hand, Pakistan’s relation with Afghanistan became strain on the issue of Pakhtunistan. This issue proved an irritating factor in Pak-Afghan relations which caused a deep mistrust, misunderstanding, discontent, disruption and dissatisfaction in their bilateral relationship. However, the Iran’s mediating role and its constructive and meaningful effort proved a significant factor in bringing these countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan), close to each other.
The situation took a different turn in the wake of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The intervention produced the homogeneity of interests between Pakistan and Iran as both countries were facing equally the political, social and the economic consequences of the Afghan problem. Generally speaking, the policies of the two countries (Pakistan and Iran) regarding Afghanistan were similar and cooperative despite of Iran’s strong objective Pakistan’s close association with USA (Iran’s staunch enemy) and its role as a frontline state on the other side, Iran did not play a major role in the Afghan’s conflict due to its preoccupation with its inter problems arising out Islamic Revolution and its long eight years war with Iraq. But after the conclusion of Iran-Iraq War which coincided with the signing of Geneva Accord in 1988 that stipulated the withdrawal of Soviet Union from Afghanistan, Iran began to play an effective role inside Afghanistan.
The Iranian activism vis-à-vis Afghanistan became a serious source of friction, which in the time transformed into active rivalry. The representation of the rival Afghan factions in the formation of future government in Afghanistan became the bone of contention between Pakistan and Iran. More important, the emergence of Taliban in Afghanistan witnessed contradiction, confrontation, competition, disruption and dissatisfaction in Pak-Iran relations. Their divergent policies, different approaches on the issue of Taliban in Afghanistan made them a virtual rivals and strong competitors. Friendship with Iran is a cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. But the warmth in their relations; unfortunately, gave way to active antagonism following Pakistan’s overt backing for Taliban. Thus, their confrontationist stance in Afghanistan blocked all the chances of their good relationship. Their support for respective ethnic groups (Pakistan supported the cause of Taliban while Iran supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance) further widened the gulf between the two countries. The occupation of Kabul and Herat by Taliban in 1996 and 1997 respectively added fuel to fire to already strained relations. Furthermore, the Mazar-e-Sharif incident and the assassination of nine Iranian diplomats gave a final blow to Pak-Iran relations.
The killing of Iranian citizens and diplomats in Pakistan adversely affected their relations. And above all, the intensification of the sectarian strife and the failure of Pakistan’s judicial process to comply with contributed negatively in Pak-Iran relations. The sectarian disharmony gave the feeling of insecurity to the Iranian nationals and officials in Pakistan. Effort on the part of the government of Pakistan to eradicate this menace from society did not materialize. Similarly, the Indian media campaign against Pakistan was yet, another factor, which led the two neighbors, and friends continued to draft apart on the sectarian issue.
The ouster of Taliban from Afghanistan removed a major irritant which provided both the countries with the opportunity to work jointly as the real guarantor of Afghanistan’s peace, progress, prosperity and reconstruction. Above all, the statement of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar in November-2002, further clarifies the situation that, “the clouds were over and the Sun is shinning over the skies of Pakistan and Iran was meaningful and reflective of the new political development between these two countries.”
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* Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Balochistan, Quetta.
** Assistant Professor, Area Study Centre, University of Peshawar.
A view by Dr. Adnan Sarwar, the Chairman of The Department of International Relations expressed, University of Peshawar, in “Pak-Iran Relations since Islamic Revolution, A Genesis of Cooperation and Competition” a research paper presented in the International Conference organized by the Department of History, University Of Peshawar, 3-4 January 2003.
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