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Pakistan’s strategy in Kabul and what happens next

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Afghan nationals arrive at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on August 19, 2021 to return to Afghanistan.

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Pakistan was one of the first countries to welcome the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan last month, following the collapse of the US-backed civilian government. Today, Islamabad must worry about some of the consequences of the success of the Taliban next door, former diplomats and political analysts said.

“It may not be as easy for Pakistan as its leaders might have thought,” Husain Haqqani, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States between 2008 and 2011, told CNBC in a recent interview.

Prime Minister Imran Khan reportedly said the Afghans had “broken the chains of slavery”. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf have publicly urged the international community to engage with Afghanistan, which in essence now means the Taliban.

Pakistan, despite being an ally of the United States, has long been accused of secretly aiding the Taliban during their 20-year insurgency in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

What are the problems ?

The main issue reported by Haqqani and others is the security risk posed by the national terrorist group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, the group is distinct from the Afghan Taliban. Last week, the TTP reportedly claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Pakistan that left at least three dead and 20 injured.

The group will “certainly be encouraged by the success of their brothers in Afghanistan,” Haqqani said. “The Pakistani Taliban would like to replicate what happened in Afghanistan in at least the Pashtun areas of Pakistan, so that’s a problem.”

It would be very difficult for Pakistan not to recognize the Taliban.

Husain Haqqani

former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States

The Pashtuns are an ethnic group originating from Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. The contested colonial-era Durand Line, which forms the international land border between countries, separates Pashtun-dominated Pakistani territories from Afghanistan. The latter claims these territories as part of a traditional Pashtun homeland.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Islamabad believes that the ideology of the Afghan Taliban emphasizes Islam rather than Pashtun identity. The Afghan Taliban and the TTP are predominantly Pashtun.

“Given the Afghan Taliban’s ties to the Pakistani Taliban, both operational and ideological, Pakistan really needs to be concerned about the risks that a resurgence of the TTP poses to Pakistan,” Madiha Afzal, member of staff, told CNBC. by David M. Rubenstein in the Foreign Policy Program of the Brookings Institution. .

“He has already seen some of these risks materialize with the release of TTP prisoners from prisons in Afghanistan in recent weeks as well as an increase in attacks on Pakistani security forces,” Afzal said.

The Afghan Taliban have yet to denounce the TTP or recognize the Durand Line as the official border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

International recognition

The Taliban have held diplomatic talks with a number of countries in their bid for international recognition, including Pakistan’s biggest rival, India.

The militant group has sought to distance itself from its past brutalities by trying to gain this global recognition, which could give them access to the international aid that Afghanistan desperately needs. But many, including Haqqani, say they are not convinced by the Taliban’s assurances.

“If the Taliban are unable to gain international recognition and there are sanctions against them, there will be repercussions on Pakistan,” said Ambassador Haqqani, who is also director for South Asia. and central at the Hudson Institute.

He explained that Pakistan would be forced to apply any international sanctions imposed on Afghanistan and that this would not be an easy task given the porosity of the international border. There is also “widespread sympathy for the Taliban in Pakistan,” Haqqani said.

Pakistan will also potentially face a large influx of refugees if the situation in Afghanistan becomes destabilized due to future fighting between the Taliban and other insurgent groups, he added.

Brookings’ Afzal added that Pakistan’s perceived proximity to the Taliban would also pose significant problems to its global reputation, after the country has spent years trying to shake off an image associated with terrorism. “This relationship with the Taliban in particular could strain Pakistan’s already troubled relations with the United States,” she said.

What happens next?

The Taliban formed an all-male interim government last week.

Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said the interim government “is not the ideal outcome for Pakistan, which is striving to cultivate non-Pashtun support” in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry has consulted with leaders of the former US-backed Northern Alliance on the possibility of joining a Taliban-led government, according to Eurasia Group. “But the Taliban have insisted that anyone who has collaborated with the ‘occupation regime’ cannot be in a leadership position.”

The Northern Alliance was made up of a loose coalition of Afghan warlords who fought the Taliban in the late 1990s.

Islamabad has yet to officially recognize the Taliban as rulers of Afghanistan. Haqqani told CNBC that the delay is a political strategy in which Pakistan hopes other countries will first recognize an Afghan government led by the Taliban.

“It would be very difficult for Pakistan not to recognize the Taliban,” he said, adding that Islamabad could end up with a “Pyrrhic victory”.

“The Americans came out, and the government that was created with international support is gone. So, will Pakistan really be able to have an influence in Afghanistan as it wished, without Afghanistan being a source of destabilization inside Pakistan? Haqqani added.

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