Conflict Alerts # 371, 29 April 2021
In the news
On 22 April, COAS Gen. Bajwa met Afghan Ambassador Najibullah Ali to discuss the Afghan peace process, bilateral security and defence cooperation. On the same day, an Afghan daily, Tolo News, reported that Taliban's chief negotiator Mawlavi Abdul Hakim had travelled to Pakistan from Doha to seek guidance from the Taliban leadership on the US-backed Istanbul dialogue.
On 23 April, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi attended the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Turkey trilateral meeting that issued a joint statement calling all parties, mainly the Taliban, to recommit to the political settlement. In an interview with the Anadolu Agency of Turkey, FM Qureshi also remarked that there is a fear of going back to the 90s if there is no political settlement.
On 24 April, Pakistan's special envoy to Afghanistan, Mohammad Sadiq visited Kabul to discuss the peace process, transit trade and counterterrorism measures. Tolo News reported that the Pakistan delegation had assured the Afghan government of the Taliban's participation in the peace process and subsequent agreement on reduction in violence and a ceasefire.
Issues at large
First, Pakistan as a stakeholder in facilitating Afghan negotiations. The Deep State within Pakistan has nurtured and supported the Taliban in the Afghan civil war. Quetta Shura operates from Pakistan. Islamabad played a key role in brokering and facilitating the Doha dialogue. However, with the Biden administration shifting the date of troops' withdrawal, the Taliban has refused to participate in any dialogue. Now, there is increasing pressure on Pakistan to bring back the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Second, the fear of Afghanistan returning to the violent 90s. The intra-Afghan dialogue under the Doha process has produced a stalemate. The Taliban and Afghan government have failed to reach a consensus on the common political framework. Pakistan worries that the US withdrawal sans political accord between the Taliban and Afghan government will increase the upsurge in violence, whose likely fallout will be the influx of refugees into Pakistan. Islamabad realizes its precarious situation in the immediate post-withdrawal scenario and therefore is attuning itself to work closely with the Afghan government to deter any negative fallouts.
Third, security challenges' emanating from the Durand Line. The Quetta bomb blast was the handiwork of the TTP, which involved an Afghan national. The TTP, which is currently operating from Afghanistan, has regained strength in the last few months after uniting with its disgruntled factions. Therefore, Pakistan is not only worried about the internal situation in Kabul but its effects on the western front too. The presence of Afghan national in the ranks of the TTP becomes a concern, as there may be possibilities of disgruntled Afghan fighters joining the Pakistani Taliban. Therefore, coordination in counter-terror measures in the immediate after-effects of withdrawal becomes imperative for Pakistan to prevent the violence spiralling into its territory.
The popular perception is that the victory of the Taliban is a success for Pakistan. There is no doubt that Pakistan has invested heavily in the Taliban and will like to see it at the helm of power in Kabul, providing a strategic depth to Islamabad. However, the US withdrawal without any agreement multiplies economic and security concerns for Pakistan. An uncertain and unstable Afghanistan dilutes any dividends that Pakistan could gain from the US withdrawal. Taliban claiming victory from the US departure will also embolden extremist groups in Pakistan. The descent of violence in Afghanistan bereft of any political settlement will spill over into Pakistan.
While Pakistan is trying to redefine its geography, from geostrategic space to geo-economic space, and gain the advantage of connectivity to Central Asia, its success depends on a secure western border, and a stable Afghanistan immediate future looks bleak.
Islamabad acknowledges the precarity of the situation, and therefore, the recent visit was an attempt to spur the stalled intra-Afghan negotiations.