The Afghan Taliban have pushed relations with Pakistan to the brink

The Afghan Taliban have pushed relations with Pakistan to the brink

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Pakistan and China are among the few countries that have remained engaged with Afghanistan while most of the world has lost interest. In fact, Pakistan has consistently pleaded Afghanistan’s case for international assistance in the larger interests of its people, been supportive of the Taliban-led government in Kabul, and pleaded that certain sanctions affecting the lives of ordinary Afghans be lifted. But there is a school of thought that believes, not without reason, that it is a deliberate policy of the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan to leverage their position in their dealings with Pakistan. If that be so, it is truly a skewed, self-defeating policy.

Last year, despite facing a serious financial crunch and economic uncertainty, Pakistan dispatched thousands of metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan as relief assistance. It has been at the forefront in drawing the attention of the international community to the worsening humanitarian and economic conditions in Afghanistan. It has also been working closely with major powers on the conditions for international recognition of the Taliban regime. As yet, the Taliban, adamant on pursuing their political and religious biases, do not fulfil the minimum conditions that could persuade nations to accord it recognition as a legitimate government. Any early recognition would be overlooking major flaws in Taliban policies and encourage future militant groups to overthrow elected governments. 

Pakistan, since the 1980’s, has given refuge to millions of Afghans within its borders, including several Taliban leaders. About 75 percent of them have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, but even so, as of June 2022, approximately 1.29 million remain in Pakistan.

The OIC conference was held twice in Islamabad to cater to the economic and humanitarian crisis after the withdrawal of the US and NATO allies and partners from Afghanistan. Pakistan made several attempts in the past to facilitate US-Taliban talks for an orderly withdrawal of US troops, because it is in Pakistan and the region’s vital national interests that Afghanistan remains stable and free from foreign interference.

The Taliban government’s attitude toward women is a manifestation of the insecurity and complexity its leadership is suffering from internally.

Talat Masood

Lately, differences have emerged between Pakistan and the Afghan government. First it was the Taliban government’s opposition to the fencing of the 2,600 km Pakistan-Afghan border. The Pakistan army undertook this task in order to secure the border to prevent smuggling, drug trafficking, influx of refugees and crossing over of terrorists. For all purposes, the fence has become the de facto border between the two countries.

But presently, the more problematic issue is the Taliban leadership’s close ties with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The Afghan government is overlooking TTP’s transgressions of using Afghan territory to launch attacks on Pakistan. It is a serious violation of international law and in total disregard of civilized behavior. There were also flaws initially in Pakistan’s policy of dealing with the TTP and in its implementation that gave them the scope to expand their influence. Appeasing the TTP and not taking a strong position against the Afghan government for overlooking their misuse of Afghan territory has emboldened them.

Moreover, the Afghan Taliban government’s human rights violations, highly oppressive and discriminatory policies toward women, have got to change. Apart from their extremely detrimental impact on Afghan society, this adversely impacts Pakistan’s tribal belt and becomes a threat to Pakistan’s security. Already, there are indications of that as a few misguided tribal elders have been wanting to replicate the oppressive conditions of Afghanistan within Pakistan.

The Taliban government’s attitude toward women is a manifestation of the insecurity and complexity its leadership is suffering from internally. They are frozen in time, oblivious of the progress and contribution women have made and continue to make in most countries including our region in the last few decades. It would be inappropriate for the Taliban to use the cover of religion for their policies as Islam has promoted learning and acquisition of knowledge for all mankind. It is in the vital interests of Afghanistan that Taliban take steps to form an inclusive government. Surely, the Taliban may be taking credit for waging a successful insurgency and overthrowing a regime supported by the US, but if Afghanistan is to move ahead, the Taliban government has to genuinely embody the will of its people, shun its isolation and move forward. This would also imply a more inclusive representation of Tajiks, Hazaras and others on the basis of their population.

Of course, the Taliban-led government should have a broader and more representative character, but taking a cue from what’s come to the surface so far, it is unlikely this advice will be followed.

- Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.

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