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Photo Source: The News International

Pakistan Reader# 293, 10 February 2022

Pakistan and Taliban: What are Islamabad’s immediate priorities?



Pakistan is likely to pressurize the international community, than force the Taliban to work towards an inclusive and humane governance

D. Suba Chandran

Pakistan is likely to pressurize the international community over accepting the Taliban, than forcing the latter to work towards an inclusive and humane governance


Early this month, the International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report titled “Pakistan’s Hard Policy Choices in Afghanistan.” The report advises Pakistan on the following three issues: “Islamabad must tread carefully with its long-time Taliban allies back in power in Kabul. Pitfalls lie ahead for Pakistan’s domestic security and its foreign relations. The Pakistani government should encourage Afghanistan’s new authorities down the path of compromise with international demands regarding rights and counter-terrorism.”
 
Is “Pakistan is trying to make the best of the Afghan conflict’s undesirable outcome?”
According to the report, Islamabad would have preferred the Taliban “to regain political authority in Afghanistan via inclusion in a government with both international legitimacy and outside financial support. Instead, Pakistan’s longstanding allies took power by force, sending political opponents into exile and angering Western governments that had kept the Afghan state afloat.”
 
Is Pakistan trying to make the best an “undesirable outcome,” or is this what it wanted to achieve? Was Pakistan keen on an “inclusive government” in Afghanistan? While a larger section of the civil society in Pakistan would have preferred an inclusive government in Kabul, the Establishment was well aware that an inclusive Afghan government was not easy to achieve. Even if it was, it should have been a tough and long road; Pakistan did take part in this road that passed through Doha. But neither the Taliban in Afghanistan nor its backers in Pakistan had the patience to allow the Doha process to run its course. There was more pressure on the then Afghan government in Doha, than on the Taliban. While the US government, which had its agenda in Doha pressurized the Ghani government, it was expected that Islamabad would do the same vis-à-vis the Taliban.  Perhaps Pakistan did and did not succeed. Perhaps Pakistan did not pressurize the Taliban enough.
 
For Pakistan, what is there in Afghanistan is not an “undesirable outcome”; instead, this is what the Establishment had wanted. An “inclusive” Afghan government, though the civil society in Pakistan would have welcomed it, would not have helped the Establishment; instead, it would have made both Pakistan and the Taliban uncomfortable. Outside the Taliban, the mainstream Afghan leadership is not favouring Pakistan; there is a strong anti-Establishment sentiment within the Afghan leadership.
 
The Taliban’s government lacks international recognition and the diplomatic and economic benefits of it. Islamabad will probably not cut its close ties with the new rulers in Kabul.
 
Will Pakistan use its close ties with the Taliban to pressurize the latter?
According to the report, “Islamabad will probably not cut its close ties with the new rulers in Kabul. It should use those ties carefully, to nudge the Taliban toward compromises on governance, including on respect for basic rights and adherence to counter-terrorism commitments that might win them greater favour abroad and help ease Afghanistan’s humanitarian tragedy.”
 
The report is correct. Islamabad, more importantly, Rawalpindi, is unlikely to cut its close ties with the Taliban. Why would Pakistan do it? It is an asset; both Islamabad and Rawalpindi would like to nurture the current relations with the Taliban.
 
But the larger question is, will Pakistan use its close ties to pressure the Taliban into making compromises on governance and make it more humane?
 
In this context, Pakistan’s immediate interests are addressing its concerns over the Durand Line. Pakistan would like to complete the fencing process along the Durand Line. For political and security reasons, this is a priority for Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Until recently, Pakistan faced tough opposition from the Afghanistan side to fence the Durand Line. Taliban has not responded positively to the idea either. Second, neutralizing the activities of the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) activities is vital for Pakistan; the Taliban’s active support is an essential component of what Islamabad wants to achieve vis-à-vis the TTP. The above two issues must be the priority for Pakistan.
 
An inclusive and humane government in Afghanistan is not a priority for Pakistan for the reasons mentioned above. So to expect Pakistan to pressurize the Taliban on the same is less likely to happen. In its dialogue with the Taliban, it is not a box that Pakistan would want to tick. On the other hand, Pakistan would instead pressurize the international community to accept the Taliban and open the funds.
 
The report asks Pakistan to “Continue to call for removal of Western sanctions and resumption of development aid to Afghanistan, while using its close ties with the Taliban to convince them, through quiet diplomacy as well as public messaging, to go further in meeting donors’ demands on governance, including respect for basic rights, as well as counter-terrorism commitments.” Pakistan would do the first, without anyone asking, and hedge over the second, despite everyone demands.
 
Will Pakistan recognise the Taliban?
Despite supporting the Taliban for decades, the present government has not formally recognized the Emirate yet. It did the last time, when the Taliban captured power in Kabul during the 1990s. Not his time. Not yet. According to the report, “Islamabad’s hesitancy to take the plunge this time around is primarily driven by concern that no other government worldwide, including among Afghanistan’s other neighbours, has yet taken the step of recognition.” Not only Pakistan, but even some of the other Taliban backers also have not recognised the Emirate. According to the report, “even countries such as Iran, China and Russia that have opted for closer engagement with the Taliban government are unlikely to officially recognise it any time soon.”
 
Pakistan would invariably recognize the Emirate. It is only a matter of time. Islamabad has been arguing for the Taliban’s case; the Doha process would not have happened without Islamabad’s support.
 
Pakistan’s recognition would also depend on what the Taliban would do to Pakistan in return. Unlike the last time, Pakistan is not likely to recognise the Emirate, without the latter addressing some of its concerns. Besides the Durand Line and TTP, the movement of Afghan refugees into Pakistan is another primary security concern for Islamabad.

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