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Af-Pak impasse

Access to education for girls, protection of women’s rights, and an ethnically inclusive government are nowhere in sight in Afghanistan.

Statesman News Service |

The biggest gainer from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August was widely regarded as Pakistan. Experts agreed that Islamabad had succeeded in its long-held desire of achieving strategic depth with a friendly, even controllable regime firmly in place in its war-ravaged neighbouring country. A year on, it hasn’t quite panned out like that. In fact, there is talk in the strategic community about the fact that not a single demand on Pakistan’s wishlist has been acceded to by the so-called Islamic Emirate now established in Kabul.

The Taliban has not shown any signs of moving towards accepting the Durand Line as the international border between the two nations; Baloch insurgents have not been expelled from Afghan soil nor has there been an effort to hunt them down; there has been no crackdown despite promises made on the Pakistan-designated terror outfit Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and even India has not been completely ostracised by the Taliban regime as was expected by the Islamabad establishment. Secondorder embarrassments for Pakistan ~ which had pitched the narrative to the US-led West that Taliban 2.0 would be more inclusive, less bigoted, and manageable if foreign troops and their proxy government in Kabul left ~ are aplenty too.

Access to education for girls, protection of women’s rights, and an ethnically inclusive government are nowhere in sight in Afghanistan. As a commentator writes in Global Watch Analysis: “With every passing day, frustration is mounting in Pakistan as its leverages are reducing. Analysts are now questioning the entire strategic framework which made Pakistan defy the West and support the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But Pakistan is caught in a cleft stick, it can neither act against the Taliban, nor can it afford to allow Taliban to string it along endlessly on critical issues that impact its own security and stability and safety of its citizens.”

What seems to be happening in the Af-Pak relationship is that the deep vein of mistrust ~ despite tactical alliances from time to time especially around the “Islam is under threat’ bogey ~ between the countries is coming to the surface. The Taliban has a long memory and resentment persists about the mistreatment of its leaders who were blackmailed and their families held as hostages by Pakistani intelligence through the two decades of fighting after the first Taliban regime was overthrown. Some Taliban commanders who had taken refuge in Pakistan were imprisoned and allegedly killed in custody while others were handed over to the USA for incarceration in Guantanamo Bay.

While it is true that Islamabad still wields considerable influence over the Taliban through its wellentrenched proxies in the regime such as the Haqqanis, there are also leaders such as Mullah Baradar and Mullah Yaqoob who view Islamabad with suspicion and this has percolated down to their followers. This faction, while not expected to take an openly anti-Pakistan stance, is nonetheless proving to be an impediment to its neighbour’s strategic gameplan. As an expert points out, just like the Americans before them the Pakistanis have the watches but it’s the Taliban which has the time.

A version of this story appears in the print edition of the September 1, 2022, issue.