By Shraddha Nand Bhatnagar*
Pakistan, which shares a 2,640 km land border with Afghanistan, has undoubtedly much to gain from a peaceful Afghanistan. However, as foreign troops depart, the persistent failure of Afghan parties to strike a lasting peace deal could pose multiple challenges for Pakistan and its security interests. At this moment, it needs to make careful choices to preserve the intended goals it always sought to achieve through sustaining what many saw as a proxy conflict in Afghanistan.
It is no secret that jihadi Islamist groups operating inside Pakistan share an ideological and working relationship with the Afghan Taliban. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), commonly knowns as the Pakistan Taliban, has always shown its allegiance to the Afghan Taliban. The emboldened prospect of the Afghan Taliban will likely act as a booster for these groups in Pakistan.
“The Taliban’s war next door is easily taken up by radical groups, like the TTP, on this side,” Sherry Rahman, a Pakistani senator and the president of the Jinnah Institute, said in a commentary published by the institute. “Pakistan must anticipate the spillover of violence from Afghanistan and consider the humanitarian aspects of war next door,” she added.
The recent spate of high-profile attacks by the TTP bears the signature of what the future might be holding for the Pakistani state.
The resurgence of sectarian violence — as recently witnessed in Afghanistan in the form of attacks against Shia Hazaras– also remains a dangerous possibilityity in Pakistan. For many years, major cities in Pakistan faced attacks, suicide bombings, and violence on sectarian lines.
Earlier in the 90s, Afghan refugees flooded Pakistan when the country descended into the civil war. Today, despite most of its border already fenced, Pakistan could not easily rule a future influx of Afghan refugees. If only the Taliban genuinely agree to the idea of power-sharing and sign a peace deal, this crisis can be averted.
Najummuddin Shaikh, former Pakistan foreign secretary, commented, “Pakistan must complete the fencing of its border, ask the Taliban leaders to move into Afghanistan to negotiate with other Afghan parties and to the extent possible insulate itself from the chaos that is bound to engulf Afghanistan.”
A future Taliban victory in Kabul can’t be taken for granted, said Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Riyaj Mohammad Khan.
Also, food supply chains– the most crucial link that integrates the economies of the two neighbors– might be disrupted if the instability in Afghanistan continues to grow. That could further adversely affect businesses in Pakistan.
Pakistan, therefore, must explore opportunities and ways to support the Afghan people, Sherry Rahman, a former Pakistan ambassador to the US and a former federal information minister, suggested, adding it should in fact increase aid assistance to support their interests.
So far in the peace process, Pakistan has played a significant role– by delivering the Taliban to the negotiation table. However, the world expects more from it, for example, using its historical influence over the Taliban to force them to a political deal.
“There are signals from the US that the blame will lie on Pakistan’s doorstep if the end results in Afghanistan is not achieved according to the script written in Washington,” Jalil Abbas Jilani, former foreign secretary of Pakistan, commented.
Most recently, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, said Washington “now plays only a minor role” and the “question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistan hands”.
However, some experts also question Pakistan’s supposed ability to influence the Taliban’s decisions. The argument is the insurgent group today is a lot more diplomatically acceptable to the world powers as a political group than what it used to be a decade earlier. The group has also expanded its outreach and tactical understanding among regional countries.
As former top diplomat Shaikh puts it bluntly, “The Taliban will have a war on their hands,” especially over control of spoils from the opium cultivation, Afghanistan’s main cash crop, and “because 31 percent of the population (the Tajiks Hazaras and Shias, Uzbeks) will not accept Taliban domination nor will the Pukhtuns opposed to the Taliban.
“None have a shortage of the sort of arms this sort of strife will require”, Shaikh declared.
Overall, whatever sway Islamabad holds over the Taliban, Pakistan realizes it must weigh its options with considerable circumspection to at least mitigate blowback effects in case Afghanistan descends into a civil war. And that is what is weighing on the minds of Pakistani policymakers and strategic analysts.
*About the author: The writer is a Research Associate, SPS. The views are personal
Source: This article was published by South Asia Monitor