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Chaotic Afghanistan: Why Pakistan needs to be cautious

Dr. Shoaib Baloch talks about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban's comeback after 20 years and hopes that these changes will finally bring peace in the turmoil of chaos in the country. However, the implications of these changes can put Pakistan’s geoeconomic policy at risk.

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The fall of Kabul and the demise of the US-backed regime has met with euphoria, déjà vu, ambivalence, and trepidation globally. The euphoria is that there will be peace and stability after 20 years of war and destruction in Afghanistan by the US-led counterterrorism mission; the déjà vu is that the Taliban may install the type of conservative and repressive regime that had been during 1996 to 2000; the ambivalence by some countries is that the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan may bruise their strategic interests and diminish their influence with the ousting of an aligned government; and the trepidation is that the Taliban’s victory may inspire other radical militant outfits, creating regional and global security threats.

What becomes next is uncertain yet with the conquest of Kabul by the Afghan Taliban, but major countries, after the Taliban’s victory, are assessing the opportunities and challenges as the militants are set to be at the helm of affairs in Afghanistan. No country is as concerned with Afghanistan’s future as Pakistan because it has the ideological, geographical, and ethnic proximity with it, so it will gain or lose more than any other country in the region.

Read more: President Erdogan first to hold talks with Taliban in Kabul

Opportunities for Pakistan

What Pakistan stands to gain, if peace is achieved, from the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan is enormous. India’s influence in Afghanistan, which has been the major cause of concern for Pakistan, will be diminished which provides Islamabad a breathing space to escape a strategic push from its western frontier. India has used Afghan soil to instigate violence in Pakistan by supporting and training the anti-Pakistan religious and nationalist militant groups to disrupt peace, thereby forcing Pakistan to come up with strategic terms with India.

With the Taliban’s victory, India’s strategic investment, which is primarily focused to destabilize Pakistan, will go to vain as the Afghan Taliban will not align with India at the expense of their relationships with Pakistan, a country which is indispensable for their future government and economic stability.

Besides, once Afghanistan is stabilized, Pakistan can put forward its agenda of regional connectivity and trade. Pakistan can get access to the Central Asian Republics’ untapped mineral and energy resources, which are crucial for meeting Pakistan’s energy needs and industrial growth. Given Eurasia’s economic potentials, Pakistan can also extend the CPEC project with communication infrastructures such as roads and railway networks to Central Asia via Afghanistan, paving the way for regional economic integration.

Read more: Taliban assures restoration of peace in Afghanistan: ACCI president

Despite Pakistan’s strong ties with China and Pak-Russia relations are in redux from estrangement to pragmatism, regional stability, after the end of Afghanistan’s political turmoil, and will bring three regional important powers together to cooperate on unleashing economic opportunities which are being created from a stabilized Afghanistan and the absence of the US—that has been a source of irritation in the region. China, Russia, and Pakistan, through regional peace and stability, promote their geoeconomic policies from South Asia to Central Asia, the Middle East, and to Europe and Africa at large.

Analyzing regional economic integrity

If Afghanistan’s potentials are exploited for geoeconomics rather than geopolitics, it will not only bring forth economic dividends for regional countries, but will also bring them together on strategic terms in order to repel any threat from the US, India, or any other adversary.

Powershift in Kabul, although uncertainty still clouds the regional strategic environment, gives Pakistan the opportunity to shift its focus from ‘strategic depth’ to strategic alignment with a new partner in Kabul to oppose India’s quest for regional supremacy as India, by recruiting smaller countries as strategic proxies, has wanted to strategically encircle Pakistan. India has always attempted to install a friendly government in Afghanistan, engaging Pakistan with its eastern border to reduce its focus on Kashmir.

As peace is achieved in the region, Pakistan will be able to engage with a single front, promoting the cause of Kashmir without any resentment. Kashmir issue, after peace is achieved in Kabul, will gain momentum as Pakistan directs its entire diplomatic energy toward this core national issue.

Read more: Kabul blasts kill 28 Taliban members, evacuation deadline unchanged

In addition to this, successive Kabul governments in the past have often tried to flog the dead horse of the Durand Line. The western frontier has been a source of resentment between Kabul and Islamabad. With the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul, Pakistan sees a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan may do away with the claim of territorial expansion and ethnic assimilation in Pakistan’s KPK province. Hence, it reduces the risk of territorial conflict between both neighbors.

Will Taliban takeover give rise to religious militancy?

Since the war in Afghanistan has displaced thousands of people who have migrated to Pakistan in order to escape misery and death, regional peace will give the opportunity to repatriate the three million Afghan refugees, who have been the source of economic and political nightmares for Pakistan. The repatriation of the Afghan exodus not only gives Pakistan economic and political relief but also eliminates the security concerns which are emanating from the refugee influx in the country.

The Taliban have maintained that they will not allow the Afghan soil to be used against another country, so Pakistan would be able to get rid of the TTP and other militant outfits which operate in Afghanistan and carry out sporadic terrorist activities inside Pakistan. Moreover, the ISIS Khorasan chapter is another source of concern not only for Pakistan but for the regional countries and the Taliban, too. Pakistan and the Taliban, along with regional countries such as China, Russia, Iran and CARs, will cooperate with each other to clamp down on ISIS to eliminate this regional security threat.

Read more: “We should trust the Taliban”: PM addresses the nation on govt’s 3-yr performance

Nevertheless, the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is not free from concerns for Pakistan. The spillover of radicalism, Taliban’s vengeance on Pakistan over its cooperation with the US on the war on terror, the chances of the resistance movement in Afghanistan and civil war, the establishment of the TTP-Taliban link, the Taliban’s diplomatic maneuver to cultivate relations with India, and instability in Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban that may create security risks and put Pakistan’s geoeconomic policy at stake are the negative implications of the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan needs to be cautious in dealing with the Taliban as it can be a boom or bust for the country.

The writer is strategic affairs and foreign policy analyst. He can be reached at dr.baloch@yahoo.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy. 

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