The parasitic relationship of Pakistan, the shark, and Afghanistan, the remora

Published: May 13, 2017

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. PHOTO: AFP

Reality is more complicated than fiction. Before someone loses a fuse by just reading this statement, let me explain. Fiction, no matter how fantastical, has to make some sense at the end of the day, otherwise it would not be able to appeal to any ‘reasonable’ audience. I apologise for using the term ‘reasonable’ here but I must make some sort of differentiation, otherwise people would point out the weirdest fictions out there as examples also known as House of 1000 Corpses.

In fiction, two brothers who despise each other throughout the narrative would somehow find common ground and get back together in some epic struggle for one or the other (something on the lines of Legends of the Fall). In reality, two neighbouring countries that share strong ethnic links and decades of history, fight wars together on a people to people level repelling a superpower and then another, end up fighting each other over nothing. I’ll let my readers form their own opinion on what sounds more complicated.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have been neighbours, brothers and fighters, in love and in hate till death do us apart, for as long as I can remember. Our relationship has unfortunately been a parasitic one where Pakistan is the shark and Afghanistan the pilot fish or the remora (take your pick). With more than three million Afghan refugees assimilated into the population, Pakistan has unfortunately become a conduit for Afghan weapons and drugs. Given the amount of blood shed by Pakistani nationals for the sake of their neighbours, one could have envisioned a different result.

With the change of government in Afghanistan and their new found independence owed to some ‘friends’ in the region, hostility across the border has risen to unprecedented levels. The Chaman incident is a classic example. The incident happened roughly a week ago when Afghan forces opened fire across the border on Pakistani forces escorting census teams with the ensuing exchange costing numerous lives on both sides.

As observed in every skirmish without independent reporting, each side is claiming more kills. Frontier Corps (FC) Inspector General Major General Nadeem Anjum met reporters last Sunday and claimed that the Afghan side had lost 50 soldiers. Afghan Ambassador Dr Omar Zakhiwal countered through a series of tweets which said that the number was only two dead and seven injured.

If we are to keep jingoism aside for a little bit, I think we can all agree that these exchanges are bordering on lunacy. It is of course every country’s right to exercise sovereignty within its borders and protect them at all costs. However, there are certain realities here that must be considered going into the future.

Pakistan has been a supporter of Afghanistan and its people since time immemorial. For the Afghans to blame us for their issues is to blame the guy who puts out the fire in your house for the fire itself. The last two Afghan governments have been speaking against Pakistan on the back of the support they are receiving from India. This has largely shot down Pakistan’s plans of strategic depth in Afghanistan.

The question that the Ashraf Ghani government needs to consider is this – where was India during the Soviet and then later during the American invasion of Afghanistan? Why did it suddenly decide to jump in after all the dust had settled?

Fine, it may be offering partnerships that are geared towards enhancing Afghanistan’s role in the region and gaining independence from Pakistan, but is it really doing this to help Afghanistan?

Helping Indian agenda will give Afghanistan some short-term benefits but there are some negative long-term implications to consider as well. Indian stronghold in Afghanistan is not only detrimental to Pakistan, it is also indirectly hurting Chinese interests within their country. Unknown to most, the Chinese have invested billions in Afghanistan to drill regions held by the government and the Taliban. They are prospecting for what may affect the future of modern technology – rare earth elements. The Scientific American did a feature on it a few years back. The Chinese are of course also invested in Balochistan as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

If the Afghans are actually smart, they would limit the role other countries are playing in determining their foreign policy at the moment. In case they were trying to limit Pakistan’s influence in their policies, they have supplanted India and some other ‘friends’ for Pakistan, which doesn’t really change anything.

Trying to act jingoistic in a world which is inclining towards the East with the passage of time, is a very stupid move on their part. Pakistan and Afghanistan both need to bury this hatchet as soon as possible in order to reap the fruits of what CPEC and other projects will be offering in the near future.



The author holds an MPhil in Public Administration and has taught Politics and Public Policy at the University of Karachi.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • An Indian

    “Pakistan has been a supporter of Afghanistan and its people since time immemorial.”
    I couldn’t suppress my laughter reading this statement. The gentleman who wrote this must be living in some other time where 67 years of pitiful existence becomes “time immemorial”.Recommend

  • Rahul

    I guess you are angling for a job as one of those fake security analysts that appear on establishment sponsored talk shows after your M.Phil! Good luck.Recommend

  • Tom

    cry for you and the slant-eyed chinks……….Recommend

  • Enkay

    In the Article Afghanistan is described as the remora. What is a REMORA?Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    With such a article coming from M.Phil student, Karachi University should close down it’s relevant department. What is more perplexing is that even M. Phil student in Pakistan have absolutely zero knowledge of Afghan history. For starter, Pakistan has been a neighbor of Afghanistan for only last 70 years and not “time immemorial” unless of course 70 years is considered a 100 centuries in Pakistan . Before that, it were India and Afghanistan who were neighbors. Guess what, Afghanistan’s most respected leader to date, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, or Sarhadi Gandhi as we know him, called Pakistani politicians as pack of wolves. Now lets discuss India’s involvement in Afghanistan. India is building the war torn Afghanistan so that it can become a place to live for it’s citizens. What exactly is Pakistan doing beside supporting armed Taliban who are involved in killing Afghans using IEDs??? Why ordinary Pakistan is silent on it’s govt. support to Taliban terrorist while Pakistanis do not want TTP as ruler for themselves?? Pakistanis are full of duplicity which is pretty much evident from this article.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The author is neither a naive nor ignorant of history should know that Afghanistan has never recgnised nor accepted the hegemonic influence of its neighbouring powers, nor of the British or of the Soviets, nor do they recognise the durand line so called border with Pakistan. it is the Pakistan army which has been operating in the autonomous tribal territories displacing millions dwellers whch has been tilting the balance of power in the region. Hence the move of India and the Russians to show their presence in one or other forms. The afghans are no brothers of Pakistanis per se especially those who are not conversed with Afghan culture.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • shan chinraj

    First follow what u preach.Recommend

  • Trollslayer

    What a load of crap. Recommend

  • Raj

    There is nothing different. This is another usual india bashing and giving unsolicited advice to one and all under the ‘Moral high ground!!!!!??????’ of peace loving Afghanistan. This is also based on the assumption that the afghans are real fools who could not judge who is supporter (pakistan prefers to call themselves as supporter though it is a trouble maker) and who is a trouble maker and also assumes that, pakistan has the fundamental right to dictate terms to afghanistan and also decide which type of governemnt the afghans must have have and which are all the countries afghans can have friendship with? Such a stupid article this is worth to put it in the dustbin.Recommend

  • Manzoor Hussain

    Afganistan needs to respect Pakistan , stop playing to Indian games & genuinely cooperate with its neighbour if it’s going to succeed in any thing .Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    That is what I thought first but considering that the man has studied in karachi one has to use a bucket of salt to understand his Psyche. If his political and military leaders were to use his terminologies there would be less of a chance for their return from Kabul.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rohan

    Loads and loads of nonsenseRecommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Shar obviously missed reading the recent ET opinion piece by Retired Lieutenant General Talat Masood (May 10, 2017. Reframing relations with our neighbors) where he states “The choice of supporting the (Afghan) Taliban by our security establishment was motivated primarily to countervail India”!
    The Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani continue to openly operate from Pakistani soil against Afghan targets, as they have for the last decade plus!
    That is why Pakistan’s reputation among Afghans is crap!Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Eh..not sure if that’s a great metaphor given that remora fish usually feed on the shark’s feces. :-/Recommend

  • Scrutator

    Afghanistan was a prosperous and SECULAR country in the 70s; Pakistan created the mujahideen in Afghanistan to create trouble (long before Soviets moved in) – ultimately assassinating the sitting Afghanistan’s President (Taraki). Taraki had requested help of Soviet troops for nearly a year to combat the menace created by Pakistan; but unfortunately the Soviets didn’t want to get involved in Afghanistan. Soviets moved into Afghanistan only due to the several OFFICIAL requests that Afghanistan had sent.

    Pakistan is Afghanistan’s well wisher?? HAHAHAHAH – it would be a real joke had it not been so tragic for Afghanistan!!!

    Afghanistan went from a secular country where Afghan women could freely walk in mini skirts in Kabul to Taliban whipping burqa clad innocent women!!! Thanks to Pakistan!!!Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Most important feature of the relation is that both countries understand and appreciate each others cultures. i am neither an Indian nor an Afghan citizen but have observed this relation among their tourists in the west..

    Rex MinorRecommend