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Pakistan’s Afghan Strategy: Legitimizing The Taliban – Analysis

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The strangest of the several barbs hurled hurdled at Pakistan during and after the recently concluded Heart of Asia conference at Amritsar, India, was that Pakistan is trying to change (Iran’s and Russia’s) perception about the Taliban that has been locked in a bitter conflict for supremacy and control with the government in Kabul for over 15 years.

This came as the seniormost US commander in Afghanistan told the media that Iran and Russia were trying to ‘legitimise’ the Taliban.

The Afghan Taliban recently offered to protect major Afghanistan government projects, such as the mining of Mes Aynak copper deposits (contracted to China), which have not progressed largely for security reasons. The Taliban offer also mentioned the $10-billion Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline project and a regional electricity generation project linking Central Asia and South Asia (CASA-1000).

But the aspect that has got Kabul’s goat is the Pakistani canard which projects the Taliban as the major force fighting to keep the Islamic State (IS) – or Daesh – out of Afghanistan, a critical issue which has had both Iran and Russia very concerned. This after several Afghan security forces personnel have lost their lives battling the IS, with US support.

While the Russian and Iranian ‘feelers’ to the Taliban have been a part of their hedging strategy in Afghanistan for years, particularly so after the recent territorial gains made by the Taliban, it is the effort by Pakistan to increase the acceptability of the Taliban at this point in time which appears ominous.

The Taliban maybe attempting to consolidate its hold on the territory it controls as the insurgency in Afghanistan appears to be reaching a critical point, but it is the external dimension of the Pakistani effort and Taliban’s ‘protection offer’ that would raise some concerns.

The Taliban before the start of the next year’s offensive seems to find it right to announce itself to various stakeholders in the region as the ‘alternative’ to the government in Kabul . The announcement straddles two scenarios; if you do not support the Taliban you get IS in Afghanistan; if you do, you can get on with your copper mining and gas pipelines.

*Monish Gulati is Associate Director, SPS. He can be contacted [email protected] This article was published at South Asia Monitor.


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Monish Gulati

Monish Gulati is an independent analyst based in New Delhi.. He can be reached at [email protected]

One thought on “Pakistan’s Afghan Strategy: Legitimizing The Taliban – Analysis

  • December 9, 2016 at 1:59 pm
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    Alternatives to end this 15 plus year war are very limited. Western powers funding Afghanistan government appear war wary and fatigued. Some regional powers, in the name of Afghanistan development and reconstruction are abusing this privilege by directly encouraging anti-Pakistan movements from within Afghanistan. Thus the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan also feel tired of terrorism spreading out of Afghanistan from immediate neighborhood to greater Central Asia and Russia. Taliban insurgency has two sides. On the one hand Taliban fight -conservative as they are- is perceived an act of terrorism, on the other Taliban consider themselves as freedom fighters. Indeed, all development projects have stalled once their rule was overthrown in late 2001. TAPI for example was the very reason, West help bring Taliban in power with the help from Pakistan. Iran, Pakistan, China and Russia besides Central Asia are seriously concerned about peace and stability in Afghanistan, supposedly a conference has been scheduled on the subject in Moscow this week. U.S. and her allies in Afghanistan equally appear with donor fatigue. If Taliban could ensure the security of development projects besides promises not to export extremism outside Afghanistan, nothing is wrong with that equation in light of the possible U.S. draw down as the transit and trade projects will prosper. The reality is that not only Pashtun but almost entire Afghanistan is relatively conservative, including Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen and Persian folks. There is nothing wrong with a scenario bringing Taliban back in power. That will likely stabilize Afghanistan, stop terrorist incidents in Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia and China and, isolate foreign powers using Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan. Everyone, including the United States know it very well that this wan could not be won, so why delay the processes which will ultimately surface over the scene. In this scenario, Taliban themselves will be fighting against and pacifying DAISH and other conservative groups fighting along the side or independently against the people of Afghanistan. Of course in that case, the newly created very small middle class is bound to suffer, but the Afghanistan people at large will benefit.

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