In the first week of September, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram in an interview given to Associated Press unfolded Islamabad’s plan to expeditiously resolve the crisis in Afghanistan created by Taliban’s forcible takeover of Kabul. He urged the international community to adopt this ‘three-pronged approach’ – one, provide humanitarian aid immediately to prevent a hunger crisis, two, promote an ‘exclusive government’ in Kabul, and three, work with Taliban to attack all terrorist groups on Afghan soil.
Three weeks later, while addressing the United Nations General Assembly [UNGA], Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also made an impassioned appeal to the international community by saying “This is a critical time for Afghanistan. Help is needed there. Humanitarian assistance has to be given there immediately.” Khan’s concerns came at a time when the international community wasn’t very forthcoming due to Taliban’s outright refusal to form an inclusive government, follow international standards of human rights, justice and gender equality, and are hence praiseworthy.
However, while Pakistan wants the world to extend out support to the Taliban regime, it adroitly doesn’t want to play any meaningful role in getting Kabul to behave like a responsible member in the comity of nations. Despite Pakistan army’s spy agency [ISI] chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed’s Kabul air dash after Taliban took control of Afghanistan for ensuring that the new dispensation in Kabul is totally dominated by the Haqqani network, which is Rawalpindi’s protégé, Ambassador Akram still wants the world to believe that Pakistan’s assumed influence over Taliban is “exaggerated”!
Not only this, but by saying that “We know better than others that you cannot force the Afghans to do anything, and I think the experience of the last 40 years has indicated that nobody actually from the outside can dictate to the Afghans,” Akram has subtly conveyed that it’s not Taliban but the international community that would have to relent. Furthermore, by saying “So, persuasion, yes. Talks with them, consultations, yes. But it’s very difficult to persuade the Afghans,” Islamabad has through him, sent out a clear message- the world has no option but to do what Taliban desires.
In September, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi conveyed a not so veiled threat to the world by saying, “Isolating Afghanistan will have serious consequences and will not be helpful for the Afghan people, the region and the world at large.” Just three weeks later, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid echoed Qureshi’s ‘apprehensions’ by saying “Our message to America is, if unrecognition continues, Afghan problems continue, it is the problem of the region and could turn into a problem for the world.” So, even if one accepts Islamabad’s claim that it has no influence over the Taliban regime in Kabul, one thing is clear- both the Taliban and Pakistan think alike!
Coming back to the issue of humanitarian aid to Kabul. In early October, New Delhi released 50,000 tons of wheat as aid for the people of Afghanistan and requested Islamabad to allow the vehicle convoy transhipping this aid transit facility through Pakistan, as this was the shortest route and most economical option. While Islamabad didn’t respond to India’s request initially, a month later Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office [PMO] tweeted “Pakistan would favourably consider the request by Afghan brothers for transportation of wheat offered by India through Pakistan on exceptional basis for humanitarian purposes and as per modalities to be worked out.”
Though it appeared that Khan was finally walking his talk on humanitarian aid, the reality was entirely different. The PMO tweet came at a time when a Taliban delegation under acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi visited Islamabad in November, and it soon emerged that Khan’s decision to permit Indian wheat laden trucks destined for Afghanistan to transit through Pakistan was at the Taliban’s acting foreign minister’s insistence. However, the phrase “as per modalities to be worked out,” in the PMO tweet clearly indicated that Islamabad wasn’t quite happy with this arrangement and there were bright chances of a ‘slip between the cup and the lip’ situation.
And, so it happened!
According to a report in Pakistani media, Islamabad hasn’t agreed to allow Indian trucks to ferry the wheat and instead suggested using Pakistani trucks for this purpose. It has also proposed that the aid carrying vehicles should move under the UN World Food Programme banner. New Delhi has rightly rejected these preconditions [which Islamabad refers to as ‘modalities’] since they lack adequate safeguards to ensure that the aid rightly reaches the needy and isn’t diverted. So, while Khan has been waxing eloquent on the critical need for providing immediate humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, Islamabad itself is playing spoilsport by letting petty politics and puerile posturing.
Press release of UN Security Council meeting held on September 9, 2021, mentions Pakistan ambassador Akram “Calling on the Taliban to allow safe and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance, he emphasized that it must all be delivered in strict conformity with the principles of neutrality and with full respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty.” However, as things stand, it’s more than evident that it’s not Taliban but Pakistan that’s acting as a hurdle in “unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance.”
So, Pakistan’s bluff has finally been called!