1 Pakistani life matters more than all of Afghanistan: Army Chief

Pakistan’s Army Chief, Gen. Asim Munir, has underscored the paramount importance of ensuring the safety and security of Pakistani citizens. In a session with students from national universities, Gen. Munir asserted that the life of an individual Pakistani holds greater significance than the entirety of Afghanistan, as reported by Pakistani media.

During an extensive dialogue, Gen. Munir stated unequivocally that, when prioritizing the safety and security of every single Pakistani, the situation in Afghanistan can be disregarded entirely. He emphasized Pakistan’s historical support for five million Afghan nationals over 50 years but made it clear that, when it comes to protecting their own citizens, decisive action will be taken against those posing a threat. He affirmed, “When it comes to our citizens, we will pursue those who attack them.”

Accusing Afghanistan of long-term support for insurgency in Balochistan and a lack of amicable gestures, Gen. Munir pointed out that Afghanistan was the sole opposing country to Pakistan’s admission to the United Nations after gaining independence. Expressing concern over a historical understanding gap, he issued a stern warning to Afghan leaders, cautioning them not to expect support. He stated, “Our people do not read history,” expressing regret and emphasizing Pakistan’s readiness to make significant sacrifices.

These remarks are situated in the context of Pakistan’s refusal to negotiate with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), believed to operate from Afghanistan, although the Taliban denies these allegations. Since November 2023, Pakistani officials have forcibly deported Afghan refugees amid a dire humanitarian crisis and harsh winter conditions, drawing widespread criticism from international organizations and human rights activists. The deportations raise concerns about the well-being of Afghan refugees returned to an unstable and uncertain situation in Afghanistan.

A lot has been written over the years about the often tense relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, including by me. However, not much has been written about the nuances in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, or about the positive engagements that occurred between 1947 and 1978, before the beginning of the protracted Afghan conflict. While it is widely known that in September 1947, Afghanistan voted against Pakistan’s entry into the UN, very few people are aware that Afghanistan reversed its position shortly after, and in October 1947 it withdrew its negative vote.

The complexities between Afghanistan and Pakistan arose from three factors. Initially, the British served as a counterbalance to the expanding Russian forces in Central Asia, hindering their progress at the Amu Darya. The departure of the British from the Subcontinent, however, created a regional power vacuum that the Soviets could exploit. Strained relations with Pakistan meant Afghanistan had to rely on the “Godless” Soviets for transit and military aid, posing the risk of Soviet penetration. On the other hand, fostering improved relations with Pakistan would reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on the Soviets.

The British withdrawal reignited irredentist sentiments in Afghanistan, sparking interest in reclaiming territories lost to the Sikhs and British in the 19th century—specifically, the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and parts of Balochistan. Despite previous attempts, Afghanistan couldn’t regain these territories from the British. Pakistan inherited this colonial legacy when the British departed abruptly. Afghanistan, perceiving Pakistan as weaker, sought concessions, resulting in detrimental effects on bilateral relations.

Third, dispelling prevalent notions, the Afghan populace strongly disapproved of the prospect of sharing a border with a Hindu-majority India. The Afghans comprehended the profound aversion harbored by Hindu nationalists towards them and their nation, given its historical role in invasions of India spanning centuries. If the establishment of Pakistan had not occurred, Afghanistan and India would have found themselves on a collision course, characterized by a lack of commonality and substantial mutual animosity. Consequently, the resurgence of a Hindu-dominated India posed a significant source of insecurity and profound concern for Afghanistan.