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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

People of Pakistan, Afghanistan share more than just a border

As the Taliban emerged with a tenuous grip on power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, they recruited thousands of Pakistani religious school graduates across the two nations' porous border to fight for the regime's cause. 




Pakistan has had strong ties with Afghanistan since its formation in 1947. Even the border between the two countries, known as the Durand Line, is controversial for the people living on both sides of it. 




UW-Madison anthropology Professor Jonathan Kenoyer, who has worked as an archeologist in Pakistan for the past 26 years, said the Durand Line is a permeable border because of trade routes crossing through the countries that are not monitored by either government.  




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In addition, the Durand Line is a sensitive issue for many of the Pashtun, a cultural group on both sides of the border, who for years have been arguing for independence to create their own state along the lines and unite their people. 




'You have a large population of tribal communities who would just as soon be linked to their brethren on the other side of the Durand Line,' Kenoyer said. 




The connection between the two countries extends beyond issues of the Durand Line, according to UW-Madison history Professor Andre Wink. Pakistan has also been a major player in Afghanistan's economy. During the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pakistan channeled American funds to the country. 






Beyond the neighboring country's economy, Pakistan has developed men who have immigrated to Afghanistan and joined the Taliban. 




According to Kenoyer, the Taliban's ties to Pakistan stem from an ongoing problem'the lack of government funds for education, which has led to a lot of money coming into the country from foreign religious organizations. 




Kenoyer said many poor Pakistani families want to send their children to one of the religious schools, called Madrasas, because of their importance in teaching the fundamentals of the religion. But the schools are also appealing to parents because their sons will be fed, clothed and educated until they are 18.  




The problem, however, is that many of these boys have had no other form of education besides the Madrasa, which has a profound influence on the way a student at one of these schools may view the world around him. 




'He gets the fire of this radicalism in his head and goes off to join the Taliban,' Kenoyer said. 




In fact, Thomas Goutierre, director of the University of Nebraska-Omaha Center for Afghanistan Studies, estimates that about 60,000 Pakistani students have fought for the Taliban in the past seven years. 




'Their whole country has sort of been Talibanized,' Goutierre said of Pakistan. 




When it was created, the Taliban were considered a positive movement, preaching the highest ideals of Islam and the studies of the Koran. Yet they have evolved into a radical institution that Kenoyer describes as doing the very kinds of actions they condemned, such as selling drugs for finances, while at the same time oppressing many of Afghanistan's people. 




It is also important to note that though members of the Taliban did, in large part, come from Pakistan, the regime is not supported by the majority of Pakistanis. 




'The communities that I'm familiar with in Pakistan are very much supportive of the current government and try to keep things from blowing up,' Kenoyer said. 'They do not want Taliban in Pakistan.' 






Despite the unpopularity of the Taliban in Pakistan, many people wonder why, if the country has such deep economic and political ties to Afghanistan, Pakistan has essentially agreed to provide the United States with intelligence in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. 




According to Raheem Yaseer, campus coordinator for the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Pakistan is not only under a lot of diplomatic pressure from the United States but is also motivated by financial considerations. Since its agreement to provide intelligence to the United States, President Bush has waived repayment of a $350 million loan and has given the country an additional $50 million. 




Yaseer warned that the United States must not be naive in dealing with Pakistan, and should be cautious. 




Other experts in this matter, such as Wink, wonder why the United States is even risking allying itself with Pakistan'a country that has harbored terrorists for many years. 




'It is extremely embarrassing that the U.S. is seeking an ally in the war against terrorism with Pakistan,' Wink said. 






Yet as Kenoyer mentioned, it is important to keep in mind that harboring terrorists and supporting the Taliban is not a matter of consensus among most Pakistanis.  




'I've got e-mails from a lot of my [Pakistani] friends saying what they're doing is not Islamic,' Kenoyer said. 




Yaseer also has many friends and family members in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, including his own siblings. But he is unable to speak with those in Afghanistan because they do not have access to communication lines. In fact, he said, he does not even know their present location. 




'I pray for them, that's all I can do,' he said. 'They have learned the tricks of survival.' 






Though an immediate resolution to the current conflict is unlikely, Wink said he still hopes that eventually something positive will come out of the situation, for both the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. 




Kenoyer said finding a solution depends on ideals preached by all religions'for people to learn to love each other and live together peacefully. But implementing these ideals, he said, is close to impossible. 




'You have people who are using those same religions to benefit themselves and exploit others,' Kenoyer said.

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