Pak-Afghan ties under Taliban

When Taliban returned to Kabul in August last year, Pakistan was more than hopeful that its interests would be secured


Kamran Yousaf January 24, 2022
This writer is a senior foreign affairs correspondent at The Express Tribune

A few recent developments highlight the complicated nature of the relationship between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. Despite being dubbed as Pakistan’s “proxy”, the Afghan Taliban — since returning to power — have not given positive signals or at least reciprocated to the positive gestures shown by Islamabad.

To start with, the repeated incidents along the Pak-Afghan border fencing suggest that the Taliban may not have a view different from the previous US-backed governments which opposed the border mechanism introduced by Pakistan to regulate the movement of men and material and ensure security. Pakistan has described as a ‘localised problem’ the incidents involving some Taliban soldiers dismantling a portion of the fencing. It has vowed to complete the fencing as per plan and insisted that the issue would be resolved with the Afghan Taliban through mutual understanding. But despite the DG ISPR emphasising the importance of the fencing at a recent presser, the Afghan Taliban Army chief asked Pakistan not to erect the fencing suggesting that their opposition was not merely confined to the Taliban’s lower cadres.

When the Taliban returned to Kabul in August last year, Pakistan was more than hopeful that its interests would be secured. Islamabad was particularly confident that the threat posed by the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other such groups would be neutralised under the Taliban rule. The Taliban publicly made promises that they would not allow the TTP or any other such groups to use the Afghan soil against Pakistan. But it was evident from their statements that the Taliban would not take any action against the TTP. Instead the Taliban offered their good offices to broker a peace deal between Pakistan and the TTP. It was a result of that mediation which led to the two sides agreeing to a month-long ceasefire. However, the ceasefire came to an end with both sides accusing each other of impeding the process.

Since the Taliban’s return to power, there has been a sudden spike in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. According to a local think-tank, terrorist attacks in the country in year 2021 registered a 56 per cent rise in comparison with year 2020. Interestingly, this surge coincided with the return of the Afghan Taliban to power in Afghanistan. This suggests that contrary to Pakistan’s expectations, the return of the Afghan Taliban has emboldened the TTP. Those who closely follow the Afghan Taliban and understand their approach believe that they and the TTP are different sides of the same coin. Both fought against the US-led foreign forces. The Afghan Taliban felt obliged that the TTP hosted them in the erstwhile tribal areas of Pakistan when the US invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. The Afghan Taliban feel that it is their time to return the favour.

But despite those hiccups Pakistan is still making efforts, telling the world to stay engaged with the Taliban. It is also helping Afghanistan avert the humanitarian crisis and prevent an economic collapse. Prime Minister Imran Khan recently directed authorities to work with friendly countries for exporting skilled manpower to Afghanistan particularly in the field of IT, accounting and financing. Tens of thousands of Afghans, including skilled and educated people, left Afghanistan within weeks of the Taliban takeover, leaving a huge vacuum. But despite those difficulties, the Afghan Taliban rejected Pakistan’s offer with its deputy information minister claiming that there was no dearth of educated and skilled manpower in the war-torn country. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that the Taliban government does face a shortage of skilled manpower. The question is: why then did the Taliban reject Pakistan’s offer? The answer, perhaps, lies in the trust deficit that runs beneath the otherwise cordial ties between Pakistan and the Taliban.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2022.

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