Islamabad’s concern must have multiplied due to increasing Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacks from across the border, killing Pakistani soldiers. Over two dozen soldiers have been killed in the past two weeks. In retaliation, Pakistan used its air forces for the first time in many decades in Khost and Kunar provinces to hit the TTP protected areas, killing over 50 terrorists in the process. The Taliban government summoned the Pakistani ambassador to Kabul to file a formal protest. Taliban top spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid urged Pakistan “not to try the Afghans’ patience” and warned of undetermined consequences in the event of similar operations in the future.
With the Taliban triumphing, most strategic thinkers and pro-Taliban politicians in Pakistan were euphoric about the winds of change blowing in Afghanistan. The initial bonhomie between the Taliban and the Pakistani government has largely evaporated. Pakistan had expected the TTP to be neutralized or harnessed with the Taliban in power. Initial attempts at a Taliban-mediated approach to the TTP did not lead to the desired results. Instead, the frequency and intensity of TTP attacks has increased. This alarming situation calls into question the Taliban’s sincerity towards Pakistan, particularly in relation to TTP activities and the free hand they enjoyed in Afghanistan.
Whatever has happened in recent months does not bode well for Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. By protecting the TTP, the Pakistani authorities would construe the actions of the Taliban government as unfriendly and further encourage the TTP ranks to indulge in terrorist activities in Pakistan. Political groups and analysts have already begun to propose a realistic assessment of the Taliban’s true goals in protecting the TTP by the Pakistani government. It is no secret that the TTP owes allegiance to Taliban leader Haibtullah Akhund, which implicitly means that the latter has an obligation to protect his TTP supporters. Therefore, it would be naïve to expect the Afghan Taliban to deal harshly with the TTP.
As of last year, the Taliban’s theocratic order in their second avatar has been projected as mature and moderate in their social interaction. Taliban apologists back up this argument by claiming that the religious militia avoided implementing the social code that was the hallmark of their pre-9/11 rule. The dress code for women’s or men’s beards is no longer mandatory. The same goes for the women who are allowed to work in schools and hospitals. Televised debates are fairly free of restrictions, while Taliban officials allow public demonstrations and patiently listen to protesters’ complaints.
By and large, the above forecast is correct. However, when it comes to curbing the TTP’s activities, the Taliban government’s lax stance raises many doubts about its real intentions towards Pakistan. The most important question is whether the Taliban regime intends to use the TTP as a proxy against Pakistan.
Despite the Taliban regime’s partisan stance towards the TTP, Pakistan has supported the regime, whether by expanding bilateral or multilateral humanitarian aid or facilitating Afghan transit trade. As an exception, Pakistan has allowed 50,000 tons of Indian wheat aid to transit through the Pakistan land route. At the diplomatic level, Pakistan has joined the group of countries calling for the lifting of sanctions on Afghanistan’s banks and the resumption of regular trade.
Pakistan has limited options if the looming humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan is any indication. About 95 percent of the country has reached the poverty line; Parents are forced to sell their children to provide for the remaining family members. An April 19 Wall Street Journal report says a father had to sell his teenage son’s kidney to pay off his debt. Such heartbreaking stories should stir the conscience of the world before they turn into a humanitarian tragedy.
According to Newsweek, “Afghanistan under the Taliban is a country in limbo, with US and UN sanctions preventing a normal banking system from functioning, foreign exchange reserves locked up in the New York Federal Reserve, and Afghanistan’s economic prospects bleak to none appearance. existent.” These sanctions show that after withdrawing from Afghanistan, the US has found a much better lever to control the country on the ground without boots. The US has left the “Afghan headache” to its immediate neighbors. The US, for its part, wants that Control Afghanistan’s banking system and its future trade.
Pakistan will need to look to Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors to find a lasting solution to Afghanistan’s economic promises, which, if left unaddressed, could unleash a new wave of refugees. Iran has already taken in over a million refugees in the past eight months, and the influx continues unabated. It is also becoming apparent that these refugees do not want to stay in Iran or Turkey, but end up in Europe. Media reports suggest that if the US and West neglect Afghanistan, the influx of Afghans into Europe could far outnumber Syrian refugees. Therefore, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors should immediately convene an international conference to sensitize the world to the looming humanitarian crisis that has been eclipsed by the Ukraine crisis.
Second, with tensions rising between the Taliban regime and the Pakistani government, the latter will have to go back to the drawing board to reconsider Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan, or at least adjust to emerging realities following renewed TTP attacks. The Taliban government’s apparent reluctance to extradite TTP operatives or imprison them in their camps further heightens Pakistan’s concerns and calls for urgent dialogue with the Taliban regime on TTP activities. As a confidence-building measure, the Pakistani side could propose moving the TTP to northern Afghanistan, with assurances from the Afghan government that they would not conduct terrorist activities along the Pakistani border while the TTP are in Afghanistan.
The author is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Iran and the United Arab Emirates. He is currently affiliated with the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) as a Senior Fellow.cccccccccccc