Pakistan, Afghan Taliban on collision course?

The Afghan Taliban have been in power for the last 16 months

November 21, 2022
The writer is a senior foreign affairs correspondent at The Express Tribune

The Afghan Taliban have been in power for the last 16 months. Yet, not a single country has recognised their regime despite several countries having remained engaged with them. The hope for the Afghan Taliban regime getting international recognition in the foreseeable future is fading away fast. The reason is that the Taliban, despite promises, have failed to fulfil certain conditions. The biggest failure of the Taliban is that even Pakistan is now running out of patience.

Last week, the 4th meeting of the Moscow Format was held in the Russian capital with participation from Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, Turkmenistan, India, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan at the level of Special Representatives/Envoys on Afghanistan.

In an unusual move, Pakistan has given a damning assessment of the Afghan Taliban regime’s 16 months in power, saying the interim government has done little to form inclusive government, protect the rights of women and eradicate terrorist groups. The lack of progress, Pakistan notes, means that the critical support needed by Afghanistan to deal with humanitarian and economic crises and other challenges has faltered.

The assessment shared by Pakistan’s special envoy on Afghanistan Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq during the meeting of Afghanistan’s neighbours and others was held in Moscow last Wednesday. Ambassador Sadiq in his address took an unusually harsh stance against the Taliban government highlighting Pakistan’s frustration over the lack of progress on certain issues.

The last Moscow Format meeting had laid down broad principles to govern practical engagement with the Interim Afghan Government based on i) promoting inclusivity, ii) respecting fundamental human rights including rights of women, (iii) countering terrorism, and (iv) sustained support to the Afghan people including provision of humanitarian and economic support.

Sadiq said the progress report of the last sixteen months was mixed: while some of the worst fears including a rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, mass exodus of refugees and a prolonged period of instability and violence did not materialise, the Interim Afghan Government had also not made the kind of progress that the international community would ideally expect.

“The international community has consistently urged the Interim Afghan Government to promote greater political inclusivity. Unfortunately, there is little to show on this count,” he said.

Despite assurances by the Interim Afghan Government, the rights of women and girls also appear to have regressed, not progressed, said the Pakistani envoy.

He added that the footprint of terrorist organisations in Afghanistan had yet to be fully eradicated. “This ‘cascade’ of unmet expectations, has unfortunately meant that critical support needed by Afghanistan to stave off a grave humanitarian crisis, prevent an economic meltdown, and combat terrorism have also faltered,” he regretted.

Pakistan has been the advocate of engaging with the Taliban government after the withdrawal of foreign forces. But the latest assessment suggests Islamabad is not happy with the interim government. Pakistan is increasingly frustrated over the Taliban’s lack of intent to eradicate threat posed by certain terror outfits to Pakistan. There has been a sudden spike in cross-border terrorist attacks mounted by the banned TTP. Besides, TTP terrorists have also been carrying out attacks in the settled areas. This clearly indicates that efforts to strike a peace deal with the TTP have failed. The Afghan Taliban regime too has done little to reign in these groups. This has compelled Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to acknowledge that the government needed to revisit its strategy towards the TTP.

The developments of the last few months suggest that Pakistan’s strategy on Afghanistan and the TTP is not working. The question is: does Pakistan have a plan B at a time when the country is confronted with serious political and economic challenges?


Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2022.

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