Afghanistan and Pakistan are in a strategic embrace that cannot have a happy ending

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An Afghan flag flies on a hill in Kabul | File Photo: Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg

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A The theocratic oligarchy, composed mostly of UN-appointed terrorists, will hold power in Afghanistan. To oversee the formation of an “interim government”, the head of the Pakistani secret service Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed flew to Kabul. The interim government had even been announced, but the sudden cancellation of the swearing-in shows led to clashes among the upper echelons of the Taliban, which Pakistan had to handle with caution. Lack of governance experience is another problem Pakistan is trying to solve. The guidance is reportedly provided by ISI-nominated Pakistani bureaucrats, technocrats, professional military and police forces. Surely, sooner rather than later, the Punjabi Musalman from Pakistan will rub the wrong side of the Afghan Pathan.

Today Pakistan and Afghanistan are politically and strategically inseparable. They are both backed by China, which has announced a $ 31 million grant that can provide limited aid at best, unless continued and greater benevolence follows. The international institutions, largely under the control of the United States, will do little to help except in the provision of humanitarian aid through the United Nations and other agencies.


Also read: No Taliban talks, India must stand up for the Afghan resistance despite the overthrow of Panjshir


Pakistan’s burden

For the Taliban, the lack of economic support makes governance a tedious task. Having tasted material well-being and one or the other religious freedom, the urban Afghan cannot easily endure religious extremism – a factor that can turn the Taliban on its head. Rural areas of Afghanistan may be relatively tolerant of the Taliban, but if their livelihoods are hindered and repression is the style of government, the Taliban will soon find it difficult to maintain control and curb growing opposition to their rule.

The signs of resistance are currently in the Panjshir Valley, where the troops led by former Vice President Amrullah Saleh and former Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud have staged a tactical retreat and pulled into the mountains. Protests, which had a large percentage of women, were responded to with brutal violence. However, as repression increases over time, the growth of resistance forces based on the complex mosaic of Afghanistan’s ethnic, religious and tribal identities will come to the fore. Increased participation of Pakistani troops operating in secret is to be expected. This, in turn, can fuel Afghans’ fear of Pakistani domination.

There have been reports of widespread use of Pakistani drones for surveillance and armed attacks. For most Afghans, this could mean that Pakistan has replaced the US as their oppressor, but without the economic generosity that fueled the government. China could replace the US and join forces with Russia for some level of economic success. But without a human-capitalized organizational structure capable of implementing projects and programs for the benefit of the population, the chances of positive development aid results are limited. The Taliban might succeed in getting some people or groups from the old administration back to work, as they did for some police forces in Kabul. But it will be difficult to catch up on the drain of experienced people who have fled the country.


Also read: Immediately stop the negotiated peace settlement with the Taliban, it is still a terrorist group


Power struggle in the military

Meanwhile, rumors of a power struggle within the Pakistani military hierarchy and growing friction with the civilian political leadership are evident. According to British exiled human rights activist Amjad Ayub Mirza, the ISI chief is under investigation for his behavior, including drinking alcohol and romping with journalists while he was at the Serena Hotel in Kabul; Continue to Kabul without informing the Army Chief of Staff; and maintaining relations with banned terrorist groups in Pakistan. The ISI chief, who enjoys the support of Prime Minister Imran Khan, could replace army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa if he is admitted to command a corps. The rise of the Taliban to power could threaten Pakistan’s fragile internal society, and even a coup cannot be ruled out. There has never been a free lunch for foreigners in Afghanistan, and Pakistan cannot be an exception.

No government – whether transitional or permanent – is likely to weaken the Taliban’s extremist ideological disposition. However, the group itself has promised to do so, despite maintaining its allegiance to “Islamic values” and “Sharia laws”, both of which can be interpreted broadly. The resistance of the Afghan population to this would be heightened by the fact that the population had had a relatively unreligious lifestyle for two decades. Attempts to revert to religious obscurantism will be resisted, which will certainly lead to repression that could quell the uprisings in the short term but would likely fail as a policy in the long term.

The international community is likely to remain divided on the issue of recognition and support for the government in Kabul. The humanitarian crisis could worsen and Pakistan will be the victim of large-scale refugee movements that will disrupt its fragile internal political and economic stability.

Russia and China would be wary of the effects on their darker side in Central Asia and Xinjiang. Stabilizing Afghanistan through support through Pakistan is a doomed project. Direct involvement by both is a minefield they would prefer to avoid. The Iranians are burdened by the Shiite-Sunni divide in their relations with the Taliban. Turkey can also act as a channel for Russia and China, but would be careful about repercussions on its already rough relations with the West.


Also read: In Afghanistan, extremists target extremists. But the one in Kabul has no vision either


The “Afghan” virus

In view of the current developments, the political system of Pakistan with the Afghanistan question and its variants is likely to be burdened by civil-military tensions and internal power struggles within the military hierarchy.

India’s Afghanistan policy now needs to focus on political and diplomatic support for the resistance forces, which are likely to grow over time. A Pakistan hit by the Afghan virus may not find it easy to cope with the ramifications of the Indian response to Pakistani-backed terrorism in Kashmir. At the same time, India must not lose sight of its northern borders and China’s incursions into its neighborhood.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are in a strategic embrace that cannot have a happy ending as intolerance towards foreigners will become apparent sooner rather than later. Pakistan has no chance of maintaining its course of rule. On the contrary, it can dig its own grave. The Afghan people pay the price, but that has been their misfortune for millennia. What we experience is a repetition of the truism – history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

Lieutenant General (r.) Dr. Prakash Menon is director of the Takshashila Institution’s strategic study program; former military advisor, Secretariat of the National Security Council. He’s on the 40th NDA course. He tweeted @ prakaschmenon51. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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