Pakistan’s nuanced stance on Taliban - GulfToday

Pakistan’s nuanced stance on Taliban


Top Taliban leaders arrive for talks with the US officials in Doha. File/Reuters

Pakistan has adopted a nuanced stance over the recognition of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said there would be a regional consensus over the recognition of the Taliban. Last time round when the Taliban were in power in Kabul between 1996 and 2001, Pakistan was almost the only country that had recognised their regime. Apparently, this time round Pakistan is adopting a cautious approach. It is restraining from extending recognition to the Taliban, which had managed to take over Kabul without firing a shot. Chaudhry said that there would be consultation with the regional and international powers and Pakistan does not intend to take a unilateral decision.

Sections of the international media have accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, especially the Pakistan army, a charge that Pakistan government and leaders refuse. There is little doubt that Pakistan has great stakes in political stability in Afghanistan. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pakistan bore the brunt of the exodus from Afghanistan, and though the United Nations agencies and others poured money to take care of the refugees, it did create social instability in Pakistan.

The northwestern parts of Pakistan share the same ethnic population, the Pathans, with Afghanistan. Interestingly, Prime Minister Imran Khan is from the northwestern province, now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and he shares the Pashtun identity with the majority ethnic segment of Pakhtuns in Afghanistan.

According to the Pakistan government, many foreign governments are in touch with Prime Minister Imran Khan. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had called up Khan and discussed the situation in Afghanistan. The Pakistan prime minister had told them that peace and stability in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and the region. He is also said to have told Johnson and Merkel that the Taliban must set up an inclusive government in Afghanistan. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in a telephonic conversation that he would be travelling to foreign capitals to evolve consensus on the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

The question arises as to the influence that Pakistan can exert on the Taliban. It is useful to note the fact that there is Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a puritanical grouping inside Pakistan, though independent of the Taliban in Pakistan. The Pakistan government faces a serious challenge from the TTP. There is the strong belief that the Taliban in Afghanistan are subservient to Pakistan because they are trained and funded by Pakistan, more specifically Pakistan army. It is not accepted either by Pakistan nor the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the democratically-elected governments in Kabul of the last two decades believed that Pakistan was abetting the Taliban in Pakistan.

With the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, it is to be seen how the equations between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan will evolve. Pakistan then is trying to get as many countries as it can, especially in the neighbourhood, to recognise the Taliban government in Afghanistan. It looks like that Pakistan has managed to persuade China, Russia, and to an extent even Iran, to work constructively with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan may not be able to extend economic aid to Afghanistan though it can use its influence to persuade other countries to invest in Afghanistan.

There is also the perception that Pakistan will use a friendly regime in Kabul to strengthen its strategic depth in Pakistan. This remains an unproven hypothesis because Pakistan strategists argue that they do not need Afghanistan. But Pakistan will keep India out of Afghanistan. Pakistan was opposed to the Indian military presence in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

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