The people of Afghanistan are unlikely to allow a peace dictated by the Taliban, which is seen as a proxy for Pakistan. While they might be compelled to compromise on democracy and rights, they want to draft the new constitution themselves and are loath to accept dictation. Pakistan’s spite for Afghanistan and paranoia about India cloud its judgment. Terror groups have most to gain
Afghanistan stands on the edge of an abyss. The Taliban’s resurgence is aided by many factors. The Doha Agreement, a symbol of the US defeat, has been a huge psychological setback for the Afghan people and government. The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces do not have adequate mobility, medevac, weaponry, or ammunition. Besides providing sanctuary and sustenance, the Pakistan army has opened supply lines for the Taliban and gives it military guidance. The leadership in Afghanistan is still in disarray. There is no operational unity among the Afghan government and the communities willing to fight for Afghan sovereignty and republicanism. The Afghan government is also losing the propaganda war. The Taliban’s current momentum on the battlefield is magnified manifold by the pervasive defeatism of western media, which is projecting Kabul’s fall as imminent.
The existential situation looks bleak. The fall of Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province, was quickly followed by Taliban victories in the northern towns of Shebergan, Kunduz, and Sare-Pol. The Taliban victories in the north are a signal to the Uzbek and Tajik communities that their supposed strongholds are vulnerable.
Kunduz had fallen twice before, in 2015 and 2016, but was retaken. Kunduz is infamous as the last remaining bastion of the Taliban in November 2001, from where the cornered Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Pakistani fighters were allowed to be airlifted to Pakistan. Zaranj is the starting point of the road that India built in 2008 connecting to the Kandahar-Herat highway at Delaram. Even at that time, except for the road’s two end-points, the Taliban’s presence in Nimroz was ubiquitous. The India construction team moved forward in a security bubble of considerable strength to protect against repeated Taliban attacks. The Taliban has also launched offensives against Kandahar, Lashkar Gah, and Herat. Ultimately, given their proximity to the Pakistan’s border, the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, and Uruzgan are vulnerable.
Diplomatic activity is centred in Doha. The extended troika, comprising China, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States (Afghanistan is not a member, though its representatives are expected to be present along with those of the Taliban) is meeting in Doha on August 10. The Qatari special envoy for Afghanistan, Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, has just concluded two days of consultations in New Delhi. The special representatives for Afghanistan are meeting in Doha on August 12. Meanwhile, on the ground, Britain’s chief of defence staff, General Nick Carter, is shuttling between Kabul and Islamabad brokering talks between Pakistan army’s chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and President Ashraf Ghani.
The people of Afghanistan are unlikely to allow a peace dictated by the Taliban, which is seen as a proxy for Pakistan. While they might be compelled to compromise on the preservation of democracy, human rights, and pluralism, they want to draft the new constitution themselves and are loath to accept dictation. A return to the status quo ante might not be as easy as it appears.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) believes it can continue to guide the Haqqani network and other sundry terrorist groups it supports, even after the Taliban gains power. This seems improbable. When the Taliban was in power earlier, Pakistan’s ambassador, Aziz Ahmad Khan, was unable to present his credentials to the Afghan head of State, Mullah Omar. When approached on the issue, Mullah Omar said that Pakistan and Afghanistan had fraternal relations, which precluded the formality of State-to-State relations. Another time, Pakistan’s foreign minister tried to get Mullah Omar to settle the Durand Line once for all. He got scolded for his labours — how dare he raise the subject of frontiers between two brothers!
Pakistan’s State structure, underpinned by its army, will come under strain if Afghanistan is Talibanised. There is no love lost between the Taliban leadership and the Pakistan army because of the coercion it has been subject to since the time it took refuge in Pakistan. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaef, one of the co-founders of the Taliban, wrote a long section in his autobiography about the abusive behaviour of ISI, which he said was so reputed for its perfidy that it could take milk out of bulls!
It is terrorist groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which will gain strategic space in Afghanistan, not Pakistan. Though the focus of the Taliban and TTP are different, there has not been a single case of an attack by the Taliban on TTP, despite ISI wanting it. Intelligence agencies such as the ISI tend to be overconfident about their hold over their assets, who have no permanent loyalties, except to their core cause.
India followed the Afghan government’s lead in its contacts with the Taliban. There is, unsurprisingly, great resentment in the Pakistani establishment about this development. In the context of India’s contacts with the Taliban’s Doha office in June, Pakistan’s national security adviser, Moeed Yusuf, said in an interview to The Dawn TV News that it is “a matter of shame” for India to have engaged with the Taliban.
Pakistan has an opportunity to right past wrongs and help secure Afghanistan’s peace, stability, sovereignty, and independence, instead of undermining these. Pakistan’s spite for Afghanistan and paranoia for India cloud its judgment. These impel policy choices that Pakistan will come to regret.