No easy answer to Afghan conundrum

A briefing on the deteriorating Afghan situation and its negative fallout on Pakistan finally takes place


Kamran Yousaf July 05, 2021
The writer is a senior correspondent of The Express Tribune in Islamabad. He tweets @Kamran_Yousaf

A long overdue briefing on the deteriorating Afghan situation and its negative fallout on Pakistan has finally taken place. The country’s military authorities in a marathon closed-door session briefed the members of parliament on Pakistan's Afghanistan challenge. Prime Minister Imran Khan maintained his record of skipping high-profile briefings on issues of national security. Remember, he never sat with opposition leaders even when Pakistan and India were on the brink of war or when India unilaterally revoked the special status of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir. This only sends a wrong message when at a time even the military leadership during the in-camera briefing admitted that a bipartisan consensus is needed on issues of strategic and national importance. Also given the imminent threat posed by Afghanistan to Pakistan’s interest, it is inevitable that such sessions would take place more often. Will the prime minister continue to stay away from those meetings?

The crux of the briefing was that Afghanistan has already descended into a civil war. The members of parliament were reportedly told that the US seems to be deliberately leaving Afghanistan “mismanaged and unstable” in order to achieve its other strategic objectives. The US and Nato forces, last week, quietly left the Bagram Airbase, the centre of US military power for 20 years. There was no pomp and show nor was there any handing over ceremony. The Americans and other westerns forces left the biggest airfield, established by the former Soviet Union in mid-80s, in a manner that only reinforced the perception that the US has finally accepted defeat. On the face of it, the drawdown looks planned and orderly since President Joe Biden announced in April withdrawal of all troops by September. But the final ritual seems to be taking place in a hurry. The Taliban have immediately welcomed the US decision of leaving Bagram Airfield as they are making rapid inroads capturing districts with little resistance.

This is happening at a time when the prospects of peace in Afghanistan are grim. Pakistan, which has played a key role in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, now says that its leverage over the insurgent group has greatly diminished after the US announced the withdrawal date. The Taliban have already assumed that they have won against the US. The trouble for Pakistan is that any unrest will only add to the country’s security problems. Pakistan, as per the security briefing, is expecting a fresh influx of Afghan refugees. Half a million Afghans may enter Pakistan in the event of a civil war. The government this time wants to keep them at refugee camps in border areas.

The US, meanwhile, is preparing to blame Pakistan for the Afghan failure. In the middle of this, Pakistan is facing a dilemma. Should Pakistan accept Afghan Taliban rule if they come through the use of force? At least the members of parliament were told that Pakistan will only recognise true representative government while it said the return of Afghan Taliban to power would not serve Pakistan’s interest. This is contrary to the widely held belief that Taliban are Pakistan’s proxy and Pakistan wants them to rule Kabul. Why Pakistan is reluctant to see the return of Afghan Taliban to power stems from the fact that such a scenario would embolden groups like the banned TTP and its affiliates currently operating out of Afghanistan. There is finally an acknowledgement that the Afghan Taliban and the TTP are two sides of the same coin. How to deal with the daunting Afghan challenge is a question that has no easy answers!

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