Of Smoke and Mirror: Pakistan’s Flawed Afghan Ambitions – Universities
Sat 14 May 2022
The fall of Afghanistan to a puritanical group, the Afghan Taliban, has brought with it a host of challenges not just for the war-torn country itself, but for the wider geopolitical dynamics of the South Asian region. .
On the one hand, the alleged victory of the insurgent Taliban would have reinforced extremist sentiments throughout the region (RSIS, 2021). On the other hand, the almost uncontested return to power of the Taliban has upset the fragile balance between the nation-states of this part of the world.
Faced with a constitutional crisis of its own, the Pakistani (deep) state finds itself at the crossroads of a geopolitical crisis, which is partly of its own making. Suffice it to say here that the rise to power in Afghanistan of its extremist protege, the Taliban, has created ripple effects for which Pakistan may be ill-prepared.
In a way, then, an observation made by Hillary Clinton years ago about the potentially harmful consequences of “keeping snakes in your backyard” (Firstpost, 2011) is likely to turn out to be true, especially as Pakistani benefactors and Taliban beneficiaries will only grow further apart in the days to come.
After all, with the Afghan nation-state, its governance structures and administrative institutions firmly under its control, the Taliban will begin to feel the pinch of having to keep their (controversial) promises, some of which may even be at odds with their interests. of its military neighbour.
The larger troubling consequences notwithstanding, the Taliban-led Afghan caretaker government provides a sense of immediate comfort and satisfaction in Pakistan. It must be mentioned here that the current Taliban-led government is populated by individuals (and entities) known to have explicit support for the Pakistani deep state. The Haqqani network, for example, is seen as a key intermediary within the broader Taliban movement, which strives to maintain the balance in favor of Pakistani interests. It is therefore not surprising that the leader of the network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, worked his way into the Taliban government as interior minister.
Similarly, the rise of a so-called friendly regime in Afghanistan is seen as a strategic achievement by the Pakistani deep state (International Crisis Group, 2022), which has long viewed Afghanistan’s democratic governments as an implicit threat. for his country. Security. Supported by Western countries on the one hand and being in a friendly alliance with India on the other, the previous regimes at the head of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan were seen as being driven by the perpetual (and imperfect) quest of Pakistan for “strategic depth” (Parkes, 2019).
It is important to note here that Pakistan’s enduring rivalry with India has so tainted its approach to Afghanistan that it has viewed the latter’s humanitarian and development assistance with an incurable distrust. In fact, former Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi claimed that Indian embassies and consulates in Afghanistan had become a “hub for sponsoring terrorism against Pakistan” (Gul, 2019).
And while animosity between India and Pakistan makes the trade in allegations a daily reality, a claim such as that made by Qureshi is not only false but also counterfactual given that there has been an increase in intensity of attacks in Pakistan since the Taliban takeover. in August 2021.
According to a report by the International Crisis Group, “the Taliban, in fact, seemed, at least initially, to dictate Pakistan’s policy choices – forcing Islamabad to yield to at least some demands on cross-border movements and pressuring it to reach a negotiated settlement with the Pakistani Taliban”.
That the Taliban managed to reverse the situation even a little indicates that all may not be well in the paradise of client-bosses.
Moreover, the consolidation of political power in the hands of the Afghan Taliban has given the group leverage to negotiate with its Pakistani benefactor on a plan shared (only) by state actors.
Faced with a Catch-22, or a situation that cannot be escaped due to mutually conflicting circumstances, today’s Pakistan has willingly given way to the rise of a neighboring regime that is unlikely to receive national and international support, at least in the future. near future. It will be difficult for Pakistan not to be seen as the protector of a pariah regime.
However, the Taliban 2.0, if we can call it that, did not turn out to be radically different from their previous avatar, especially in terms of the policies and practices they follow. For example, his puritanical dictates, which range from enforcing dress codes to suspending schooling for girls beyond the sixth standard (Al Jazeera, 2022), have angered people both in Afghanistan and beyond.
At the same time, the continued designation of the Taliban as an internationally proscribed entity will continue to harm their chances of gaining international momentum in their favour, especially given their reluctance to sever ties with terrorist groups like Al- Qaeda (RSIS, 2021
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan may not be as beneficial as the Pakistani deep state might wish. Far from it, the rise of the Taliban has posed challenges to Pakistan, including the potential to further damage the latter’s relations with the West (International Crisis Group, 2022). Moreover, the Taliban’s return to power as an Islamist force is bound to have dangerous fallout that Pakistan cannot afford.
So while the so-called Taliban victory may have provided a sense of satisfaction to Pakistan’s powerful military-intelligence nexus in the short term, it’s entirely possible that the Frankenstein will turn on its creator sooner than later. In some ways, it already is.
The author is a President Graduate Fellow and a final year PhD student in the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore.