A new dynamic in the Af-Pak Great Game

Pakistan needs to realise that with a disturbed region close to their border and an agitated Kabul with several radical militant entities at their beck and call, Pakistan could end up facing a difficult situation dealing with a menace which is its own creation.

Kabul: Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan has changed drastically ever since takeover of the Taliban in Kabul. The nature of engagement from the initial days of the Taliban government when one witnessed the then Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief being received in Kabul with honour and dignity, to a stage when both sides do not see eye-to-eye, has been a major ‘about- face’ in the relationship.

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While there are differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the Durand issue, which has led to several casualties in the past and could emerge as a major threat to peace in the region, the Afghans consider the Pakistanis playing a game of ‘duplicity’ with Kabul on various fronts.

The differences between Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Pakistan on an agreement signed between the two has been increasing with the TTP claiming lack of Pakistani adherence to the terms of the agreement. This has led to serious casualties on both sides.

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The Pakistan Peace Research Institute published data in October 2022, according to which the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan had gone up by 51 per cent post coming to power of the Taliban government in Kabul. According to the report, 250 attacks were carried out from August 2021 to August 2022 leading to the death of 433 people with 791 injured.

A senior Russian researcher, Andrey Yashlavsky, an expert on religious terrorism and extremism, while speaking to a Russian daily ‘Nezavisimay Gazeta’ (NG) recently, mentioned that in the second half of 2021, there were signals from Kabul that the Taliban movement was dissatisfied with the policies of Islamabad, and high-ranking Taliban figures stated that the actions of the Pakistani leadership did not comply with the norms of Islam.

In this backdrop, it is worth considering the mention by Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, in an article published in NG in the first week of November where he states: “The Americans are openly blackmailing Taliban leaders, threatening them with a drone attack and forcing them to distance themselves from Russia and China (in this case, they demand that Kabul should refrain from restricting the activities of Afghanistan-based Uyghur militants from the so-called East Turkestan Islamic Movement, designated as a terrorist organisation in Russia).”

Kabulov strongly implies in the article that “Pakistan is colluding with the US with respect to the latter’s blackmail scheme against the Taliban”.

He further claims that the US was resorting to drone diplomacy by using Pakistani territory to threaten Kabul into doing its foreign policy bidding. Considering Afghans have always been united against a common enemy, especially when the enemy is the US, the latest tactics of the US is only helping in bringing the militant groups together. Moreover, such actions will only bring them closer to the command and control in Kabul.

The realisation has dawned on Pakistan that the desperate economic situation and the serious need for financial support from international institutions and the West can only fructify with open ended cooperation with the US on Afghanistan.

However, unlike in the past when Pakistan would define its own broad course on Afghanistan not jeopardising its relations with Kabul, this time around such sensitivities do not seem to be the priority. This change of stance on the part of Pakistan has angered the Taliban leadership.

Moreover, there is a feeling in Taliban circles that Pakistan is being egged by the US to disrupt the sanctity of the region as a whole. Keeping the southern fringes of the central Asian states disturbed and in a state of turmoil will indeed cause concern to these states as also Russia. Thus, diverting Russian attention from the Ukraine war could be an underlying tactical ploy by the US, being played at the cost of Pakistan.

The resultant destabilisation of the broader Central-South-West Asian space surrounding Afghanistan would worsen Pakistan’s own objective national interests as well. This extremely reckless policy would not go down well with the Pakistani masses, yet it is being promulgated anyhow because the US has successfully captured its elite, including those within its establishment, who are supposed to be responsible for defending their country’s interests.

Pakistan needs to realise that with a disturbed region close to their border and an agitated Kabul with several radical militant entities at their beck and call, Pakistan could end up facing a difficult situation dealing with a menace which is its own creation. Hopefully, the new military leadership would realise this aspect and balance their policy in a more mature and well calibrated manner.

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