Is Pakistan really the winner in Afghanistan?

New Delhi: Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan, was in Kabul briefly at the beginning of September to get all the Taliban factions to agree on the formation of an interim government.

Politics apart, Pakistan is clear that it wants a hand in the till on all aspects of Afghanistan’s future course. Thus, while the ISI watched the government formation in Afghanistan with a keen eye to ensure its chosen nominees are in the right positions, the Imran Khan government has announced its economic plans for Afghanistan. 

The first and foremost is the revelation that bilateral trade between the two countries will henceforth take place in Pakistani rupees. Pakistan is thus eyeing to gain an entry and eventual control over Afghanistan’s economy.  

Pak currency to be used in Afghanistan

While bilateral trade between the two countries earlier used to take place using US dollar, it will now be in Pakistani rupees. After this move, Pakistan’s currency will have a hold over traders and the business community in Afghanistan. 

The introduction of Pakistan’s currency is likely to further de-value the Afghan currency, following which all trade and business will be dependent on Pakistan. The current challenge is that Afghanistan is undergoing an economic meltdown and the Taliban do not have the financial wherewithal to govern the country. 

Pertinently, more than 70 per cent of Afghanistan’s budget comes from grants and aid from the international community. 

The Taliban have announced the formation of an all-male interim government. However, they put off their planned inauguration ceremony on September 11, which marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.

Domestically, there is popular resistance within Afghanistan from journalists, women and activists, including university students. Demonstrations have been held against the Taliban for the ‘new government’ imposing restrictions to curb the voices rising against it. 

Also, as of now, the international community has shown no inclination to recognise the Taliban’s interim government. More importantly, the people of Afghanistan have realised that Pakistan is playing a double game in Afghanistan and its actions will be detrimental in the long run. Therefore, a number of limited but significant street protests have occurred in Kabul and other provincial capitals against Pakistan. 

Popular protests against Pakistan 

Just recently, an incident was reported where Taliban gunmen fired in the air to disperse anti-Pakistan protesters in Kabul. Video clips showed people running as gunfire was heard. There were no immediate reports of injuries. People protested (on September 8) against the Taliban and Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan’s affairs, with the Islamist group calling the neighbouring nation its “second home”. 

Marchers raised slogans such as “long live the resistance” and “death to Pakistan”. A number of men and women took to the streets of Kabul chanting slogans against Pakistan. They claimed that Pakistani Air Force jets had conducted airstrikes in Panjshir province. In this context, the spokesperson of Iran’s Foreign Ministry has asked for an investigation into what he called the interference of foreign jets. Reports suggest that Pakistan Air Force had used drones to drop bombs on the Northern Resistance Front fighters who were resisting a Taliban takeover in Panjshir. 

In Kabul, the protesters had gathered at the gate of the Pakistan embassy and said that they did not want a puppet government in Afghanistan. Protesters chanted “death to Pakistan” and asked the Pakistan embassy to leave Afghanistan. 

“Freedom”, “Allah Akbar”, “we do not want captivity” were among the other slogans raised by the protesters. Meanwhile, people in Balkh and Daikundi provinces also took to the streets and chanted slogans against Pakistan. 

Journalists in Afghanistan under the Taliban have also been vulnerable. Recently, two Afghanistan journalists covering the women’s protests in Kabul were allegedly detained and severely beaten by the Taliban. Taqi Daryabi and Nemat Naqdi from Kabul-based media house Etilaat-e Roz, were detained and attacked. 

The reporters had been covering protests by women in Kabul demanding an end to Taliban violations of the rights of women and girls. Etilaat-e Roz reported that authorities took the two men to a police station in Kabul, placed them in separate cells, and severely beat them with cables. Both men were released on September 8 and received medical care at a hospital for injuries to their backs and faces.

Humanitarian crisis in the offing?

A UN humanitarian organisation has recently warned that basic services in Afghanistan were on the point of collapse and food and other aid was starting to run out, following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

According to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, more than 18 million people currently need aid. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has urged donors to give more ahead of an International Aid Conference for Afghanistan. The agency has released an appeal for around $600 million to meet humanitarian needs for 11 million people for the remainder of the year.

Thus, the situation in Afghanistan is dire and efforts by Pakistan to get things moving with the Taliban’s interim government are not succeeding. This is partly because of the economic situation and the lack of resources to govern. 

The other reason is that the Afghans themselves, who have seen years of change, especially among the women, do not want to go back to the dark ages under the Taliban. That is why Kabul has witnessed protests by women, who do not want to be suppressed by the Taliban and prevented from stepping out of their homes without a male companion.

The international community must know and realise that while it may be practical to recognise the Taliban in the long run, this should only happen if the Taliban provide the Afghan people a modicum of democracy and a constitution that will guarantee their rights.

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