Pakistan-Afghanistan relations have deteriorated, is an understatement. A spate of recent incidents Pakistan used drones, and targeted civilians in Afghanistan, triggering outrage in the country. Pakistan, on the other hand, has gone ballistic against Kabul for not preventing what it calls terror attacks originating from Afghan soil into its territory.
Much has changed in the ties between the Taliban and Pakistan since August 2021 when Pakistan armed, supported, and gave a momentum to the speed of Taliban’s march to capture Kabul, enabling it to rule the country again after a gap of 20 years.
The souring of relations, to put it mildly, in fact these have turned hostile, between the two countries has wide ramifications for the whole of South Asia. To put it more bluntly it is a live-threat to peace in the region.
In August 2021 when Pakistan engineered Taliban’s success and made Americans to leave in a huff, notwithstanding the agreement that they had entered in Doha, Islamabad made calculations based on its own strategic considerations without realising that the geo-politics of the world changes every now and then. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was not there, though tensions had started surfacing on Moscow-Kyiv-Washington axis.
It believed, and it was overconfident, too that (a) Taliban will remain indebted to it forever for it had ensured its return to power in Kabul, (b) it would control all the territory of Afghanistan under the Taliban rule, validating its strategic depth theory that has been in vogue for decades, (c ) while it proxy will rule Afghanistan, it can sit back and relax and the world would be asked to address the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country because it was responsible for the mess and the crisis dogging the landscape and people over there, (d) Pakistan became a spokesman for Taliban—run Afghanistan, (e) it held out guarantees to China that Afghan soil will not be used by the anti-China terror group Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement or ETIM, ( e) and, of course, it became confident that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP would cease all its activities in Pakistan.
This matrix had a flaw. These were 20th century calculations. And it was more than two-decade old 21st century, where the world knew what Pakistan is up to and Taliban knew that they have to be on their own without waiting for crutches to be supplied by Pakistan.
Within Pakistan, there were a host of problems, and Afghans knew that annoying America would not serve their interests. They kept on talking directly, while Pakistan lived in an illusion that it was making all this possible.
This chessboard in which Pakistan sensed victory all around, hoping to become pivot in South Asia without which the Afghan issue could not be addressed, sat awkwardly with the geo-strategic realities of the times.
The situation in Afghanistan was used to a hilt – fear stalking the people left to mercies of nature to fend themselves, if they were not to die from bullets of Taliban militia, hunger and disease sent them to graveyards. Islamabad sought all sorts of aid for Afghanistan, and most of which, it knew would be routed through its territory.
It was also warning the western world that if it did not rush the humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and took care of financial needs of the Taliban government, the situation could drift to the extent that there could be many more 9/11s.
Pakistan uses 9/11 to scare the world, after all it was a partner in the terror attack for it had helped al-Qaeda and Taliban all along, and it has its eyes set on the benefits that would flow to it in political, economic and military terms.
Pakistan has been the biggest beneficiary of 9/11. It had its relations, those are still there, with al-Qaeda, the global terror network, and Taliban, that staged terror attacks of unprecedented magnitude on the American soil, challenging its economic and military might.
It got billions of dollars for joining war on terror but at the same time it kept on feeding the terrorists, helping them in sheltering in Pakistan and taking care of their comfort and luxurious lifestyle. It is a well-documented part of the history that Osama bin Laden was captured from Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.
As time has passed by, what has become evident is that Kabul, even under Taliban rule, refuses to work as a proxy of Pakistan. It has asserted its position on the borderless Pashtun land. Its soldiers have uprooted fence erected by Pakistan along the Durand Line, which was drawn during the time of British rule in 1893, but has never been recognised by Pashtuns living on the two sides.
There have been spate of attacks, as alleged by Pakistan, from Afghan soil killing Pakistani soldiers and civilians. The TTP is alleged to be behind these lethal actions. The TTP is considered as an ally of Afghan Taliban.
There is a contradiction – Pakistan government had sought good offices of Afghan Taliban to open negotiations with TTP, which was resented by Pakistani people who had seen the atrocities terror group had unleashed on them.
The Peshawar school attack was still fresh in their memories, haunting them since December 2014. The talks failed. TTP was back to its old ways.
Now when Pakistan is at the receiving end of the terror groups operating from Afghanistan, all its assurances and guarantees to China that ETIM will not use the Afghanistan soil to launch any terror activities has come to a naught. Moreover, it has no defence to offer why Chinese nationals and institutions are being targeted on its own soil.
All this is a staple diet for the destabilising forces. The region can be roiled into crisis if the hostilities escalate. Afghanistan will be without support of the world, and Pakistan suffering from its internal political troubles where former premier Imran Khan is creating a civil war situation for he has not accepted his ouster through a parliamentary resolution of no-confidence, South Asia has a reason to worry.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.