Why no one likes Pakistan as a neighbor
While Pakistan’s relations with India remain frosty due to historical and political issues, its ties with its other neighbors, Iran and Afghanistan, are even more complex. This is why nobody likes Pakistan as a neighbour.
“We can change friends but not our neighbours,” former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in May 2003. However, given a chance, Pakistan is one neighbour everyone would have liked to change.
Pakistan’s relations with arch-rival India can be termed frosty as best. It has traditionally been exporting terror to India while importing food products, pharmaceuticals and industrial raw materials from it. Always perceiving India as a threat, Pakistan has obsessively spent money on its military.
Forget India for a moment, what are Pakistan’s relations with its other neighbours?
Pakistan shares its borders with Afghanistan and Iran. Both Iran and Afghanistan are Islamic countries. Like Pakistan, Afghanistan is a Sunni-majority country while Iran is a Shia country.
Pakistan’s relationship with neither of its neighbours is harmonious. In fact, the International Border with India and the Line of Control (LoC) have mostly been calm for some time now. While its borders with Afghanistan and Iran have turned hot.
Iran launched a massive attack on Pakistani soil on Tuesday (January 16). The Iranian attacks were targeted at the bases of Jaish al-Adl, a Sunni-Baloch terrorist group.
The missile and drone attacks hit Jaish al-Adl bases in the town of Panjgur in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, killing two children, which prompted strong condemnation from Islamabad.
A Pakistani foreign office statement, released on Wednesday (January 17) called the attacks an “unprovoked violation of its airspace by Iran.” Calling the attacks a “violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty”, it warned they could “have serious consequences”.
TERROR AND DRUGS STRAIN IRAN-PAKISTAN TIES
The area along the 904-kilometre border that Pakistan and Iran share is a hotbed of drug trafficking and militancy.
It is the Balochistan region, which ranges across both countries and sectarian differences and Balochi separatist activities have made the situation worse.
The Jaish al-Adl, a designated Sunni terrorist group by the US and Iran, has a long history of carrying out terrorist activities in southeastern Iran.
According to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) of the United States, the terror group has been involved in “ambushes, assassinations, assaults, hit-and-run raids, kidnappings” of civilians and government officials in Iran since 2013.
In October 2013, the group killed 14 Iranian border guards. In 2019, it launched a suicide attacks on Iran’s paramilitary group, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, killing 27 personnel. The same year, it abducted 14 Iranian security personnel too.
It goes without saying, that the Sunni-Shia sectarian divide between both countries is at the heart of the bitter relationship.
However, even if you take out the sectarian divide from the equation, Pakistan’s relationship hasn’t been good with its neighbours, and its ties with Afghanistan are a testament to that.
TERRORISM AND REFUGEES AFGHANISTAN
Let’s rewind to August 2021. That was the time the US military and Nato allies were leaving Afghanistan, Pakistan’s other neighbour in the northwest.
Imran Khan, the then Pakistani Prime Minister, hailed the American exit as the Afghans “breaking the shackles of slavery”, as the Taliban seized power.
Pakistan had historically backed the Taliban like it did with dozens of terrorist organisations.
Back to the present day, things between Afghanistan and Pakistan are not what many, including the Pakistani ‘Establishment’ had hoped for.
It seems the Taliban in Afghanistan is turning into a Frankenstein’s monster for Pakistan.
Among the irritants in Afghanistan-Pakistan ties, the activities of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the most important one.
Accusations of the Taliban supporting the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an anti-Pakistan terrorist group, have strained ties.
“The Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan is dominated by security issues, leading to mutual allegations and a blame game,” said Thomas West, the US special Afghan envoy at a congressional hearing, summarising the situation.
Other friction points include Pakistan’s deportation of Afghan refugees and the visa restrictions on Afghan transporters. They have been souring bilateral tensions.
Before the Taliban regime, the civilian government in Afghanistan, just like India, had been constantly asking Pakistan to end its terror activities.
PAKISTAN’S NEMESIS: INDIA
Pakistan’s relationship with India, which it sees as an archrival, is not a secret. The relationship turned from frosty to a winter’s freeze, after India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. Pakistan, which has no locus standi in the issue, protested against it and has called the decision unilateral.
The almost dormant and downgraded diplomatic ties and suspension of trade say it all.
However, it is interesting to note that both countries have seen a relative lull in the Line of Control (LoC) since February 2021. Before the ceasefire agreement between the Indian Army and the Pakistani Army, the LoC saw constant shelling and exchanges of fire.
Cross-border infiltration, drone crossings and a few incidents of cross-border firing from Pakistan continue, irrespective.
THE CHINA ANGLE IN PAKISTAN TIES
No, Pakistan does not share a land boundary with China. However, on the ground, they do carry out trade and people-to-people exchange through the disputed Shaksgam Valley, a part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), ceded to China in 1963. In fact, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) links the two.
The entire POK and Aksai Chin are an integral part of India.
Therefore, Pakistan’s alliance with China stands out as a strategic partnership, initially rooted in mutual opposition towards India but has evolved into a multifaceted diplomatic, economic, and military cooperation.
Pakistan and China aren’t neighbours and the ‘partnership’ is lopsided.
Experts believe that China is the sole reason for Pakistan’s debt problem. A report from AidData in 2021 revealed that the main form of Chinese development financing in Pakistan from 2000 to 2017 was loans, not grants, which were given at almost commercial interest rates.
“China’s exports to Pakistan is $20 billion per annum whereas Pakistan’s exports are just $ 2 billion per annum,” said Pakistani caretaker Minister for Commerce and Industries and Production, Gohar Ijaz, in December 2023.
A Business Recorder report said China is unwilling to pursue a Free Trade Agreement with Pakistan because of the trade imbalance.
The risk that Pakistan poses to its neighbours can be summed up in a 2011 remark of then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. You know, eventually, those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard,” Hillary Clinton said.
In fact, it is the nest of snakes that Pakistan has become that is souring its ties with its neighbours.