Afghan foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, speaks to the media.
On Thursday, Pakistan had convened a conference of envoys from the United States, China, and Russia in Islamabad, which has been described as “Troika Plus”. The Taliban government in Kabul was not represented at the meeting though Taliban foreign minister for Afghanistan Amir Khan Muttaqi was present in Islamabad. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the Taliban representative would be part of the next session of Troika Plus to be held in Beijing.
The Pakistan overture follows that of the conference on Afghanistan convened by Pakistan’s neighbour India a day earlier, and which was attended by the national security representatives of Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. While the Delhi conference was focused on security implications of the situation in Afghanistan, the meeting in Islamabad was a more general one, concerned with political and economic stabilization in that country. This is clearly reflected in Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi’s statement, in which he said, “Enabling Afghanistan to access its frozen funds will dovetail into our efforts to regenerate economic activities and move the Afghan economy towards stability and sustainability. Today Afghanistan stands at the brink of an economic collapse.”
The significance of the Pakistan’s Afghan initiative is that it has brought the United States into the frame along with China and Russia, the two countries with whom America’s relations are strained in different ways and different degrees. Though Americans have exited Afghanistan in the middle of August, they still hold the purse strings as it were because the Afghan funds are parked with Western banks and institutions.
Though China has promised to lend economic assistance to the Taliban regime, China alone may not be able to sustain the Afghan economy. Secondly, America has an important role in getting the Taliban government in Kabul recognised in much of the Western. The Taliban need the Western nod to be able to function effectively in governing Afghanistan, and stability in Afghanistan is of vital concern to Pakistan.
The Imran Khan government in Islamabad is involved in a political tussle with the Tehreek-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) as well as Tehreek-Labbaik-Pakistan (TLP). The TLP poses a security challenge to the government in Islamabad, while the tussle with the TLP is political. There is little doubt that the Taliban in Kabul have an indirect influence over both TTP and TLP. It is not a surprise then that Pakistan is anxious to get the Taliban in Kabul to consolidate their power and gain global recognition.
There was a time when the Taliban in Afghanistan was interpreted as a friend of Pakistan, and that Taliban in power in Kabul would just mean that it will be a friendly regime of Islamabad.
There was too much simplification in this interpretation though it seemed to have its grain of truth as well. But today, the success of Taliban in Kabul has become a crucial factor in the internal situation of Pakistan. Pakistan’s security experts will deny that this is the case, and argue that the government in Islamabad can handle the TTP and TLP on its own and that it has nothing to do with the Taliban in Pakistan. It is, however, a fact that an unstable Taliban in Kabul would have a spillover effect on the radical religious elements inside Pakistan. It is also recognized that the fate of the Taliban regime will have a domino effect on Afghanistan’s neighbourhood, including the central Asian states to the north of the country, in Pakistan and to an extent in India.
Though India and Pakistan are traditional rivals, they have a common stake in the political stability of Pakistan. And the Taliban seem to concur with the efforts of both India and Pakistan to find a solution for Afghanistan.
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