Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations in Mohammad Ayub Khan’s Memoirs

By: Amin Kawa

Marshal Ayub Khan was the leader of the first military government in Pakistan from 1958 to 1969, having come to power through a military coup. In 1965, he wrote his autobiography, Friends not Masters, which discussed his personal, military, and political life, as well as the regional and global changes in Pakistan. According to this book, Ayub Khan laid the groundwork for Pakistan’s political, economic, military, and foreign relations. It is a historically significant book that helps readers understand the causes and effects that have led to the distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan since 1947. 

An Excerpt of the book: 

When India and Pakistan became independent countries with their own sovereignty, many Afghans had two misconceptions. The first was that India’s propaganda had led them to believe that Pakistan would not survive as a separate country, so the Afghan rulers decided to try and claim Pakistan’s northern areas (Pashtun residencies) before it collapsed. To do this, they proposed the idea of an artificial state of Pashtunistan within Afghanistan’s borders. This was not acceptable to Pakistan, as it would have been interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. India supported this proposal, hoping that it would lead to a war in the northwest of Pakistan that would benefit them in the Kashmir war. Afghans also believed that Pakistan would not be able to use the Pashtun tribes against them.

The second misconception held by the rulers of Afghanistan was that if Pakistan became a democratic government, it would harm their dignity. This led to a battle in the Durand Line, with special forces being hired to try and claim parts of Pakistan’s land. As a result, the two countries were separated. Despite this, Pakistan adopted a policy of tolerance and patience with Afghanistan, providing them with import facilities for their goods to pass through the railway route. This was done in an effort to establish a friendly relationship with the Afghan people, who have a land-locked country with no access to the sea. Pakistan facilitated many trades, which allowed them to discuss their bilateral problems at different levels on every occasion and opportunity. It was understood that if Pakistan remained a weak government, Afghans would become more excessive in their demands for land. Conversely, if Pakistan were a stable government, Afghanistan’s claims would be less effective. In the past, Afghans had designed maps that indicated they wanted areas up to Andus and Karachi, but when asked to clarify their demands, they explained that they did not want to take control of any territory, but rather wanted the welfare of the Pashtun people.

In 1959, I had a lengthy discussion with Shahzad Naeem. I informed him that Pakistan was created as a result of Muslim efforts to gain freedom from the British and Indians. When we gained independence, we initially hoped to receive support and friendship from the Islamic world, particularly the Muslim countries of the Middle East. Unfortunately, we were disappointed as Afghanistan had a hostile attitude towards Pakistan from the start. Afghanistan was the only country that objected to Pakistan’s membership in the United Nations, and Pakistan was the target of negative comments in Afghan media and radio.

Despite our embassy in Kabul being ransacked, it was difficult for us to accept this behavior. Prince Naeem was told that we understand why the plan they have in mind is vague and uncertain. The rulers of Afghanistan wanted to have the right to intervene in Pakistan’s internal affairs before taking any other actions, which was not understood as a violation of the international border of Pakistan. The original document of the Durand line, which was the demand of Afghan authorities, was signed in 1893, confirmed in 1905, and re-confirmed in 1919 during the Afghan and British treaty. Afghanistan’s approach as an indirect and unreasonable development effort could only lead to further disagreement between the two countries. All these concerns about the Pashtuns in Pakistan revolved around the fact that Afghanistan had once dominated parts of Pakistan and Delhi. However, if our guidance is based on past conquests, then Pakistan should have more interest in the future of Pashtuns living in Afghanistan. The current world has moved past historical stances and does not live with myths of past glory. Therefore, Pakistan’s tolerance must not be considered a weakness. I requested Shahzadeh Naeem to abandon its policy in a way that maintains the interests of both countries.

We must accept this situation and be patient. Building trust and understanding takes time, and acting hastily will never lead to the desired result. Recently, the ruler of Afghanistan has increased partnerships and allowed people outside the royal family to take part in government. If this continues, the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan will disappear, and Afghans will see the advantages of working with Pakistan. Afghanistan is going through a period of democratic testing, and the people of Afghanistan must understand how a democratic system works. I have respect for the royal family and the Shah, the wise man, and I trust my Afghan brothers. I believe this can help solve the current problems and create friendly relations. The tribes in Pakistan have been given the chance to grow, and there has been significant agricultural and industrial progress. We believe that the tribal leaders should be given the opportunity to make decisions about the plans and programs that will bring the tribal areas closer to the rest of Pakistan, and help them contribute to the wellbeing of their country.