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Pakistan’s Handiwork

In every situation of not completing the fights that they had initiated, the West had precipitated incalculable miseries on the common person. To now leave half of the population to face possible starvation is not a moral option. While not recognising the Taliban regime or recognising the disastrous role of Pakistan in leading to the prevailing crisis in Afghanistan is one thing, ensuring vital supplies of relief material, food, medicines, and clothing for desperate Afghan civilians is an absolute necessity

BHOPINDER SINGH | New Delhi |

Pakistan was the sole oddity that celebrated the storming of Kabul by the Afghan Taliban. Islamabad had some psychological reasons to celebrate the return of its proxy ~ it was reeling under unprecedented economic stress, international ‘pariahisation’ and decreasing importance.

The success of its creation, the Taliban, forced Pakistan to the global forefront, yet again. Ominous signs to the contrary, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had applauded the Taliban success by stating that they had, “broken the shackles of slavery.” Today, Pakistan spearheads the struggling Taliban’s cause for international engagement, legitimacy, and support, whilst remaining one of the few countries to maintain an official mission and many more covert platforms, for facilitation.

However, the chickens of the ostensible Pakistani ‘success’ in Afghanistan are coming home to roost as the initial euphoria wears out, and the complex reality of Afghanistan stares, beyond the emptiness of the so-called, ‘victory.’ Those supporting the Taliban, and even those who oppose the entity, agree on the invaluable role and hand of Pakistanis in the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

In the landlocked and still-isolated Afghanistan (no country has recognised the new regime, yet), the ruling Taliban is openly beholden and increasingly dependent on Islamabad for sustenance ~ whereas most civilian Afghans who have traditionally held a dim view of Pakistan, attribute the new reality and regressions to the pernicious hand of Pakistan.

Perceptions of Pakistan are on the line, depending on the evolving fate of socio-economic conditions in Afghanistan. As things stand, Pakistan is coming under unbelievable pressure for its imagined ‘victory,’ just a few months back. The dual curse of terrorism and the accompanying economic doom is mutually felt on both sides of the invisible and often unaccepted Durand Line.

Pakistan sits with well over 80,000 casualties to terrorism and an estimated economic cost of $100 billion since 2001, when its selfish ‘Strategic Depth’ in Afghanistan was believed to have been compromised by the rout of Taliban after its first coming (1996-2001). What had rankled Pakistan since then was the growing influence of New Delhi in the form of $3 billion investment, five diplomatic missions and much public goodwill amongst the masses. What Pakistan has ‘won’ over now is a war-ravaged land ruled by intolerant and uncontrollable extremists, who now preside over an unrecognised regime that is completely dependent on the outside world for survival.

The emerging humanitarian crisis can be gauged by the World Health Organisation’s catastrophic warning of one million Afghan children (under five years of age) dying this winter, with a UN refugee agency predicting, “Nearly 23 million people ~ that is 55 per cent of the population ~ are facing extreme levels of hunger and nearly 9 million of them are at risk of famine.”

Pakistan’s own ability to survive economically hangs by a thin thread of recurring doles and lifelines offered by China, IMF, or some Sheikhdoms; these have pushed Islamabad well beyond the ‘debt-trap’ stage, with an outstanding and unserviceable debt exceeding $100 billion. Add to this, the three million Afghan refugees already on Pakistani soil and many more who will be forced to migrate across the Durand Line, to avoid the hell-like situation in Afghanistan.

Pakistan knows that it has tied itself up in knots and has dramatically changed its tone from that of an unabashed victor to a desperate caretaker with fervent pleas and threats, simultaneously. At a recently convened meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers to discuss the failing situation in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned about the potential “biggest man-made crisis in the world.”

The patent Pakistani double-speak was on full display when at one end he requested to delink the Taliban government from the Afghan people to solicit international support, while on the other hand he dished out justifications for the Taliban not respecting its commitments of human rights, women rights etc., when he mumbled straightfaced, “the idea of human rights is different in every society”.

In a barely veiled threat, Imran warned the US of more terrorism by alluding to the imminent chaos and said, “chaos means the inability to fight terrorism.” Ironically, the leader of Pakistan, who is also known by the moniker ‘Taliban Khan’ had conveniently forgotten his ‘broken the shackles of slavery’ bravado, and is now seen pleading for help, from all those whom he had accused of ‘slavery.’

Beyond politics and Pakistan’s amoral conduct on Afghanistan since time immemorial, the grim situation in the country demands nothing short of a new age ‘Marshall Plan,’ as the common person on the street has very little to do with reckless geopolitics, statecraft, and misplaced ideologies.

The estimated $2.3 trillion spent by the US in Afghanistan since 2001 is practically invisible, as is the multi-billion aid in infrastructure, social sector, and developmental projects by various countries (including India) that have been squandered at the altar of religious extremism and Pakistan’s ‘Strategic Depth’.

However, Western Powers too must introspect on their own history in Afghanistan to honestly acknowledge their own ‘Great Games’ (including fueling religiosity during the Cold War) that had entailed unwarranted interferences, bloodshed and destruction for Afghanistan. Each time they had pursued their own geopolitical interests and abandoned Afghanistan in ruin and despair once their objective was either achieved or had proved to be unsustainable (like the recent US abandonment).

In every situation of not completing fights that they had initiated; they had precipitated incalculable miseries on the common person. To now leave half of the population to face possible starvation is not a moral option. While not recognising the Taliban regime or recognising the disastrous role of Pakistan in leading to the prevailing crisis in Afghanistan is one thing, ensuring vital supplies of relief material, food, medicines, and clothing for desperate Afghan civilians is an absolute necessity.

Memory runs deep in the unforgiving swathes and emotions of the Afghan lands, and they will never forget or forgive Pakistan. But today’s crisis is beyond Pakistan’s known machinations, it is about the survival of innocent Afghans.

(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd) and former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)