The world has witnessed in several cases that, neighbor states experience very cordial relations and friendly ties even though they have very simple and symbolic borderlines. For instance, the borderline between the US and Canada is a great example in this regard. Similarly, countries within the European Union have free border movement, an immense amount of trade, and very strong interconnectedness. There is peace and calmness among them despite zero or very limited measures in terms of frontier security and border management. On the other hand, if one considers the situation between Pakistan and Afghanistan; both states have very complex relations in terms of border security.
Pakistan has taken very strong and deep initiatives on its border with Afghanistan, yet it faces constant instability and never-ending security threats on the Western border. These security issues are so deep and embedded in history that they have impactful implications on the bilateral relationships of the two neighboring Muslim States. Pakistan and Afghanistan share several significant similarities in terms of culture, social norms religion, etc. However, up to now, both have failed to utilize such similarities to their advantage; in terms of shaping healthy ties.
It is rightly said that a state can change friends or foes; yet it can’t change neighbors. It is therefore both state should jointly work for enhancing the bilateral relationship in order to pursue broader interests.
Instead of building security walls and raising measures, both states can stabilize and build friendly ties by utilizing several common areas of interest. For instance, the Same Pashtun culture and shared ethnic norms could be used to improve bilateral relationships. On both sides of the Durand line, millions of Pashtun population exist that have several significant common grounds.
Their food, physical getup, way of communication, and religious thoughts are remarkably identical. Therefore, instead of raising high security walls and spending billions of money on border security, both states should work on confidence-building measures; that may cost much less. Being stable and powerful in several sectors as compared to Afghanistan, Pakistan should start the initiatives in this regard. Similarly, Pakistan is more engaged diplomatically with the world as compared to Afghanistan; Thus, it should play the role of big brother to normalize the ties.
Moreover, in the past cricket diplomacy has played an important role in decreasing tensions between Pakistan and India. Pakistan and Afghanistan can apply this aspect to their bilateral relations as well. Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan can utilize this aspect to their advantage. Great love and emotional attachment can be found in both countries for the game of cricket. Both states are the upcoming rivals in cricket. However, instead of rivalry, Pakistan and Afghanistan can transform this sport into a healthy competition; that will bring both nations closer to one another.
The majority of Afghanistan’s international stars have learned their cricket in Pakistan. Similarly, engaging Afghanistan national stars in the Pakistan Super League is a positive step in this regard and more such steps are much needed. Through this, Pakistan can overcome the barriers to ties with Afghanistan and can further people-to-people contact with the neighboring country.
As far as security and border management are concerned, instead of blame games and misunderstandings, both states should enhance security through collaboration and collective patrols. There should be a broad consensus and intelligence sharing between the two countries on overcoming border issues and security concerns. More importantly, the 21st century is the era of interdependence and cooperation. Thus,
The diplomatic channels should be used to develop an understanding of issues like terrorism and cross-border insurgency.
Along with state actors, influential nonstate actors should be used regularly to build regular channels and proper communication on such issues. Keeping so many commonalities, and deep cultural and linguistic bonding in mind, it is quite illogical to put so many restrictions and security measures on the border. Instead of yielding positive results, these are producing hatred and illusions.
Thus, increasing people-to-people contact and maximum interaction to contain bilateral issues and misunderstandings is the only way forward. In this regard, softening the border must be considered to increase trade and economic activities on both sides. Pakistan and Afghanistan have the capacity of billions of trade; which should be utilized for the economic development of both countries. These initiatives will increase interdependence between the two neighbors which will ultimately push both states to cooperation instead of confrontation.
Taking such initiatives is probably cheaper and more economical as compared to security measures and building barriers on the border. More importantly, these can bring long-term sustainable solutions to the bilateral issues of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well.
The only way forward is cooperation and broad consensus on the issues. Soon both states acknowledge it, the less they will bear consequences.
Similarly, the contemporary government of the Taliban in Afghanistan faces serious isolation in the international arena. Keeping its diplomatic crisis in mind, the Taliban government should abandon stubbornness and should address Pakistan’s reservations over several matters. Everyone is aware of the fact that one can change friends or enemies but can’t change neighbors; therefore, the ultimate way forward should be talks and peaceful negotiations.
The author is an Islamabad-based columnist and Researcher, having a master’s in International Relations. He has worked as a Research Associate at the International Parliamentarians’ Congress Islamabad. He also writes on international politics for several news forums.