Country Listing

Pakistan Table of Contents


Other South Asian Countries

Pakistan seeks to expand its relations with other South Asian states, particularly Bangladesh. After an initial period of understandable coolness following the civil war that created Bangladesh in 1971, relations between the two countries have improved considerably. Although Pakistan initially refused to recognize Bangladesh, formal relations between the two countries were established in 1976. Trade revived between Pakistan and its former East Wing, and air links were reestablished. The presidents of the two countries exchanged visits. Both countries often agreed on international issues, sometimes in opposition to India's views. Pakistan also joined the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which was founded through the efforts of Bangladesh's President Ziaur Rahman. SAARC generally avoided political issues, instead addressing social, economic, technological, and environmental matters. However, SAARC's annual summit meetings provide an opportunity for private discussions among the heads of government.

Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan, its Muslim neighbor to the northwest, have never been easy. When Pakistan was admitted to the UN, only Afghanistan cast a negative vote, the result of Afghanistan's refusal to accept the Durand Line as its border with Pakistan. This border, established in 1893, divides the Pakhtu or Pashto-speaking people of the region. Afghanistan promoted secessionist movements among the Pakhtuns in Pakistan, calling for the creation of an independent Pakhtunistan or, alternatively, for Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province to join Afghanistan.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, however, had a profound effect on Pakistan's geopolitical situation. Pakistan became a frontline state in the Cold War. Altogether more than 3 million Afghan refugees fled to Pakistan, and the country became a base for mujahidin fighting against the Soviet forces and the Afghan communists. Pakistan also became a conduit for military assistance by the United States and others to the mujahidin.

After the Soviet Union completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, warfare continued between the mujahidin and the Afghan communist government in Kabul. The demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, however, resulted in a reassessment of Pakistan's foreign policy, particularly in light of the sweeping restructuring of central and southwest Asia. The Afghan resistance had been unable to unseat the Kabul regime. The heavy burden of the Afghan refugees continued, and Pakistan wanted to be in a position to establish linkages with the newly emerging Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. Pakistan decided in early 1992 to press for a political settlement. The communist government in Kabul was ousted in May 1992 and replaced by a fragile coalition of various mujahidin factions. But the coalition did not include the most radical of the Islamist mujahidin leaders, Gulbaddin Hikmatyar.

In March 1993, the government of Nawaz Sharif brokered an agreement between President Burhanuddin Rabbani of Afghanistan and Hikmatyar, Rabbani's longtime enemy, to share power in Afghanistan for eighteen months and then hold elections. Under the agreement, Rabbani would remain president, Hikmatyar would become prime minister, and they would choose government ministers together. A cease-fire was also to be implemented. It remains, however, for the agreement to be ratified by the leaders of all Muslim groups involved in the war. In 1994 fighting between mujahidin groups escalated in Kabul, and a new flood of refugees moved toward the Pakistani border.

Data as of April 1994