This opinion piece originally appeared in EurAsiaReview August 10, 2023
By Najib Azad
The fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 marked a turning point in the country’s history. However, the aftermath of their rule has been far from stable.
This article delves into the intricate dynamics between Kandahar, the birthplace capital of the Taliban, and Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. It explores Pakistan’s lobbying for the recognition of the Taliban and its efforts to position itself as a key player in the post-Taliban era. It further explores the reconciliation meetings between the Pakistani military and civilian governments and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Kabul, as well as the resettlement of TTP militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Moreover, it explores the issues surrounding the extraction of minerals in the Pashtun and Baloch areas, as well as Pakistan’s shifting stance towards the Taliban and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The article also delves into the intricacies of this relationship, focusing on two key topics: the internal disability within Pakistan and Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan and its strategic depth-based goals.
1. Pakistan’s lobbying for the recognition of the Taliban
Pakistan, under the leadership of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, had been actively lobbying for the international recognition of the Taliban. In the 77th session of the United Nations’ annual summits and conferences, Khan formally asked the international community to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Pakistan has argued that recognizing the Taliban is crucial for stability in the region and for providing humanitarian relief to the Afghan people.
In addition to their efforts at the United Nations, Pakistan hosted two conferences of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December 2021 and March 2022. These conferences aimed to garner support from the Muslim-majority countries to recognize the Taliban and provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Pakistan positioned itself as a facilitator for aid distribution, emphasizing its geographical proximity, the collapsed banking system in Afghanistan, and historical ties with the Taliban.
Pakistan’s lobbying for the recognition of the Taliban also highlights its desire to play a significant role in shaping the future of Afghanistan. By positioning itself as a mediator between the Taliban and the international community, Pakistan seeks to exert influence and ensure its interests are protected.
Pakistan’s historical ties with the Taliban, dating back to their rise in the 1990s, have given them a unique position in the region. The country has always provided sanctuary and support to the Taliban during their 20-year war against the Afghan nation, government, and international community. However, Pakistan now seeks to leverage this relationship to become a key player in the post-Taliban era.
2. Challenges and concerns surrounding Pakistan’s involvement
Although Pakistan pretended that its efforts to lobby for the recognition of the Taliban might be driven by a desire for stability and humanitarian relief, there are visible Pakistani objectives associated with their involvement.
One objective is the potential for Pakistan to use its influence over the Taliban to further its own interests. It’s quite clear that Pakistan’s support for the Taliban is driven by a desire to maintain a Pakistani narrative-based government in Afghanistan that aligns with its strategic objectives, such as countering the influence of India in the region and an all-time unstable government that would never raise the Durand line issue. This raises questions about the Taliban’s independence and their ability to govern in the best interests of the Afghan people.
Another concern is the potential for Pakistan to become a conduit for international aid to Afghanistan. While Pakistan argues that it is well-positioned to facilitate aid distribution due to its geographical proximity, there are enough documentaries and confessions that show how Afghanistan has always been a cash cow for Pakistan. Since Operation Cyclone and Cold War until now, Pakistan received trillions of dollars from the world in the guise of protecting the interest of the West and the war on terrorism.
3. Reconciliation meetings between the Pakistani Establishment and the TTP
The Taliban, after taking control of Afghanistan, hosted reconciliation meetings between the Pakistani military and civilian governments and the TTP in Kabul. These meetings aimed to address the so-called longstanding conflict between the Pakistani state and the TTP, a militant group that has carried out numerous attacks in most Pashtun territories on the other side of the Durand line. The Taliban also facilitated discussions between Pakistani religious scholars, tribal elders, and the TTP in an attempt to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
These reconciliation meetings were significant as they showcased the Taliban’s role as a mediator between the Pakistani establishment and the TTP. By hosting these meetings, the Taliban demonstrated their influence and ability to bring together conflicting parties. However, the success of these meetings in achieving the pretended lasting peace remains uncertain, as the TTP’s actions in the Pashtun areas continue to threaten stability.
4. TTP’s resettlement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK)
In March 2022, the Pakistani establishment made the controversial decision to resettle TTP militants in Swat and Waziristan, both regions located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and FATA. This move raised concerns among local communities and security experts, as it allowed the TTP to establish a presence in close proximity to Pakistani military checkpoints.
Under the guise of resettlement, the TTP militants were provided with weapons and logistics, enabling them to regain strength and influence in the region. This decision sparked criticism, as it appeared to contradict the Pakistani government’s efforts to combat terrorism and maintain security within the areas of its control.
The resettlement of TTP militants in KPK also raised questions about the government’s long-term strategy for dealing with extremist groups. Critics argue that such actions may lead to a resurgence of violence and instability in the region.
5. Deprivation of mineral benefits in Pashtun and Baloch areas
One of the key issues between the Pashtuns, Baloch and the Pakistani establishment is the deprivation of Pashtuns and Baloch from benefiting from the mineral resources in their areas. The Pashtuns in particular the Pashtun Tahfuz Movement (PTM), have raised this issue, making it difficult for the Pakistani establishment to extract and export minerals from the areas, particularly to China. This has led to increased tensions and insecurity in the region.
In the midst of the TTP’s relocation in the area, the Pakistani establishment does not face challenges in extracting minerals due to the heightened insecurity for the local community. The Pakistani government began extracting copper from the Mohammed Khil site, located approximately 17 miles from Miranshah in North Waziristan and 22 miles from the Durand Line. This site is estimated to hold around 3.5 million tons of copper, with approximately 1.5 million tons already extracted and exported to China.
The extraction of minerals in these areas has further exacerbated the grievances of the local Pashtun community, who feel marginalized and deprived of their rightful benefits. This issue highlights the need for equitable distribution of resources and the inclusion of local communities in decision-making processes.
6. Shifting stance towards the Taliban and the TTP
Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban has now been portrayed as complex and multifaceted. Initially, the Pakistani establishment pursued a strategic depth policy, seeking to gain international recognition for the Taliban and secure significant financial benefits. However, when this approach did not yield the desired results, Pakistan began distancing itself from the Taliban and portraying them as an independent entity.
In this shift, Pakistan started backing Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group that has carried out numerous attacks within Pashtun areas only. By supporting the TTP, Pakistan attempted to create a narrative that the Taliban were not under their control and did not listen to their directives. This allowed Pakistan to divert attention from their previous support for the Taliban and distance themselves from the consequences of their actions.
7. The Internal disability within Pakistan
The political landscape in Pakistan has been marked by internal strife and power struggles. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, once seen as a beacon of hope, found himself at odds with the establishment after claiming to have been used in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Khan’s anti-establishment stance, including referring to the Pakistani army chief as the “Godfather of the nation,” led to his ousting and the fragmentation of his party.
However, Khan’s subsequent focus on the decades-long grievances of the Pashtun and Baloch communities struck a chord with the Pakistani population. He exposed the role of the Pakistani army, leading to a national narrative that shattered the trust in the military. To counter this narrative, the Pakistani army needed to destabilize the country, presenting themselves as the sole protectors of the nation.
Significantly, most controlled terrorist attacks occurred in South or North Pakhtunkhwa (KPK, FATA, and Balochistan), predominantly affecting Pashtuns and Baloch. Although it further fueled the grievances of these marginalized communities, who felt targeted and ignored by the establishment, but spread fear among the rest of the nation, who would have no option but seek protection from their army.
8. Pakistan’s Foreign Policy based on its Strategic Depth
Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan has been characterized by shifting alliances and strategic calculations. Initially, Pakistan sought to lobby for the recognition of the Taliban, hoping to gain financial benefits. However, when this approach failed to yield the desired results, Pakistan changed tactics.
First, Pakistan orchestrated reconciliation meetings between them and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to demonstrate the existence of the TTP in Afghanistan. This aimed to create a narrative that Afghanistan posed a terrorism threat to Pakistan and the region. The Pakistani military and civil governments began blaming the Taliban for supporting the TTP’s attacks on the other side of the Durand Line.
However, questions arise regarding the origins of the TTP and the Pakistani establishment’s inability to eradicate them despite extensive military operations and financial support from the United States. The Pakistani government had previously claimed to have secured the Durand Line with fences and checkpoints, making it impossible for militants to cross. Yet, the TTP managed to carry out attacks in Pashtun areas, leading to accusations against the Pakistani establishment by local authorities.
The relationship between Kandahar and Islamabad remains complex and riddled with challenges. While the Taliban may appear to be independent, they are still under the control of the Pakistani establishment. The ongoing tension between Pakistan and the Taliban is a carefully planned and controlled strategy by the Pakistani military to achieve their objectives.
It is crucial to address the internal disability within Pakistan, ensuring equitable representation and addressing the grievances of marginalized communities. Additionally, Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan only prioritizes instability, insecurity, security dilemma, and the two-level game.
The international community can be vital in supporting peace, security, and a legitimate government in Afghanistan. It shall play a role in the transition and hold Pakistan and the Taliban accountable for their actions. By fostering inclusive governance, promoting economic development, and encouraging dialogue, Kandahar and Islamabad’s seek-and-hide game can be withdrawn.
The international community can end Pakistan and Taliban seek and hide game. By taking decisive actions and implementing effective strategies, they can disrupt the support networks and safe havens that enable Pakistan to operate in the region through its proxy forces. Additionally, it is imperative for the people of Pakistan to unite against the proxy forces and those who manipulate and endorse them. The citizens of Pakistan have painfully observed the assassination of democracy within their nation, witnessing their leader unjustly imprisoned. Should this oppressive and totalitarian regime persist in Pakistan, it is the Pakistani people who will suffer the gravest consequences.