In this Aug. 3, 2021 file photo, Pakistan Army troops patrol along the fence on the Pakistan Afghanistan border at Big Ben hilltop post in Khyber district, Pakistan.

In this Aug. 3, 2021 file photo, Pakistan Army troops patrol along the fence on the Pakistan Afghanistan border at Big Ben hilltop post in Khyber district, Pakistan. (Anjum Naveed/AP)

Pakistan’s recent airstrike in eastern Afghanistan targeted members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and resulted in the deaths of eight individuals. This recent escalation follows a series of retaliatory strikes and has intensified the already-fraught relations between the two neighboring countries. The backdrop of this incident is a complex tapestry of long-standing tensions, marked by mutual accusations and intermittent conflict.

For nearly 70 years since Pakistan’s inception, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been entangled in a de facto war, with each side accusing the other of leveraging proxies to advance their geopolitical interests. Despite the Taliban (once allies of Pakistan) now holding power in Kabul, this enduring strife displays no indications of diminishing.

The Pakistani government accuses the Taliban of sheltering the TTP. According to the Diplomat Magazine, “The Taliban have proved unresponsive to Pakistan’s security concerns, resulting in mounting tensions between the two.”

Recent Pakistani air operations inside Afghanistan in pursuit of the TTP, dubbed by Al Jazeera as the “war of cousins,” have escalated tensions to a significant degree.

All nations pursue their own interests, and in this case, both sides have some valid points: The Afghan perspective is encapsulated in former President Hamid Karzai’s assertion that Pakistan seeks to exert influence over their foreign policy (particularly to restrict relations with India) and insists on the recognition of the Durand Line, a 2,640-kilometer boundary between two countries. It originated from an agreement signed between Afghan ruler Amir Abdur Rahman Khan and British India in 1893.

Since then, the Afghan government has steadfastly regarded the line drawn between the powerful British government and the less influential Afghan authority as invalid, refusing to recognize it or settle the issue definitively.

On the other hand, the Pakistani perspective asserts that their nation generously embraced millions of Afghan refugees fleeing the turmoil sparked by the Soviet invasion of the 1980s and the subsequent American invasion of 2001. However, Pakistan feels that Afghans show ingratitude, and their leaders seem to favor India over Pakistan by permitting Indian consulates along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Pakistan also cites grievances such as Afghanistan providing refuge to the Baloch insurgency.

Is there any way to soothe the tensions and provide a roadmap for a lasting peace between them?

I believe that a political alliance between two countries in the form of a confederation could prove to be the key for the following reasons: The two nations have deep-rooted historical ties, cultural similarities and linguistic connections, particularly among Pashtuns who reside on both sides of the border. Furthermore, by collaborating closely on security matters such as counter-terrorism efforts and border management, Afghanistan and Pakistan can address common security challenges more effectively.

By pooling resources and coordinating economic policies, both countries could stimulate economic growth and development.

More importantly, a closer relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan could facilitate regional connectivity initiatives, such as the development of transportation networks and energy corridors. Fostering cultural exchange and people-to-people diplomacy between the two nations could also ease tensions. A confederation could promote greater understanding, tolerance and cooperation among diverse ethnic and religious communities in both countries.

The optimal path forward would be a confederation built upon equitable distribution of wealth and power. The outdated notion within Pakistan’s establishment of retaining control over Afghanistan is a vestige of failed policies from the past, incongruent with the demands of the modern world order, which prioritizes free trade, relaxed border regulations and commerce promotion.

A thriving and stable Afghanistan would yield substantial benefits for Pakistan. With Afghan consumers increasing their purchases of Pakistani goods and services, a prosperous Afghanistan would bolster Pakistan’s economy. Conversely, a destitute Afghanistan would export poverty, burdening Pakistan with impoverished refugees lacking financial resources and skills, further exacerbating its already fragile economic situation.

Pakistan possesses the skills expertise and know-how that Afghans need the most. The alignment of needs and demands of both countries can be realized if there is the will and courage on both sides to take steps. It takes the molds of leaders like Sardar Daud Khan of Afghanistan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan, who met in Kabul in 1975 to improve relations.

I anticipate resistance, particularly from the Afghan nationalist diaspora residing abroad, labeling this as an act of treason. Nonetheless, they cannot overlook the reality that over 4 million Afghans reside in Pakistan as refugees, alongside the significant presence of 30 million Pashtuns within Pakistan’s population.

One example of a confederation that settled differences is Switzerland. It is composed of 26 cantons, each with its own constitution and considerable autonomy. The modern Swiss Confederation traces its origins back to the 13th century when several cantons formed a defensive alliance against external threats. Over the centuries, more cantons joined, and through a series of agreements and treaties, they managed to settle their internal differences and form a unified nation.

Despite differences in language, culture and religion among the various cantons, Switzerland has maintained a remarkable level of internal peace and stability. This is largely due to its unique political system, which emphasizes decentralization, direct democracy and consensus-building among different linguistic and cultural groups. Through negotiation, compromise and respect for each other’s differences, Switzerland has been able to maintain unity and prosperity despite its diversity.

A similar confederation between Afghanistan and Pakistan could bring an end to the incessant strife between the two nations and halt the use of proxies to further their interests. Employing missionaries to wage clandestine wars is a double-edged sword that ultimately harms both sides.

A confederation founded on equitable power-sharing and mutual respect is not only mutually beneficial but also paves the way for enduring peace and economic development. Democratic nations resolve their differences through negotiation rather than resorting to overt hostilities against each other, making such a confederation a beacon of hope for stability in the region.

This goal cannot be realized if the Taliban remain in power. Pakistani leadership must collaborate with the international community to compel the Taliban to respect the will of the Afghan people by facilitating free elections, enabling Afghans to choose their own leaders. Pakistan would greatly benefit from a democratic government in Kabul, fostering a relationship based on democratic principles.

Afghanistan is a failed state and can’t yet stand on its own. A Pakistani friend of mine once shared a joke circulating among Pakistanis: “Whenever there’s an earthquake in Kabul, Afghan authorities are quick to blame it on the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence).”

Can they work together? A century ago, the British concluded that Peshawar could thrive independently from Kabul, while Kabul’s prosperity relied on Peshawar. I would argue that both cities should unite and engage in building robust institutions, fostering good governance, investing in science and technology to break free from dependency, and cease relying on external assistance for survival.

Wahab Raofi is a graduate of Kabul Law School who writes on global affairs focusing particularly on the Middle East and Afghanistan.

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