For years there has been a symbiotic relationship between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban, but it seems, slowly the tide is turning and the overall expression is transforming into a formal tone. Apparently, Islamabad’s influence on the Taliban is diminishing after the group became a political faction and came into power. Over the decades, the Pakistan-Taliban relationship is derived on the basis of mutual fears and favors.
Pakistan wanted an ally on its west border that can oppose India and anti-Pakistan elements. Afghan Taliban being the ideologically driven faction emerged as indirectly favoring Pakistan. Though most of the Taliban are ethnic Pashtun, their ethnicity has never taken over their ideological identity, so in both respects, the Taliban were less detrimental to Pakistan’s security challenges.
Since their inception, the Taliban had enjoyed tremendous support and acceptance from Pakistan that continued throughout their previous tenure and recent victory. Since the Taliban took over Kabul in August, Pakistan has been facilitating the Afghan government at all levels, with regional & international support. Recently Pakistan took up the matter of the Afghan humanitarian crisis and organized an Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit to support the people in need. Previously, Pakistan is amongst few of those countries that are sending regular aid consignments and facilitating the dialogue.
Read more: Afghan Taliban’s struggle for legitimacy
What is the future?
The future of the relationship between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban holds a very critical place in determining the peace and stability of the entire region, especially for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Keeping in view the recent developments, where Taliban soldiers tried to disrupt Pakistani soldiers in fencing the border and the reported skirmishes between the soldiers on both sides of the border are creating a bitter environment.
Ever since the core issue between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the recognition of the international border or the ‘Durand Line’ which is indeed troublesome because it passes through the ethnic Pashtun lands dividing one of the world’s largest tribal civilizations. No Afghan government has ever recognized the border, implying it as a ridiculous division of geography, history and culture, but on the other hand, it’s a matter of existential issue for Pakistan.
For years the 2,640km border remained porous/ un-policed and Pakistan’s initiative to fence it in 2017 was received with stringent criticism and resistance. Even the Afghan Taliban are not welcoming of this fencing, demarcating the tribal belt which was started after a wave of deadly attacks from Afghanistan-based Pakistani militant groups.
Read more: No long distance travel for women without male guardian: Afghan Taliban
There are a few immediate things Pakistan wants from the Afghan Taliban
First, they should take decisive action against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan-TTP. As the ceasefire ended on December 10 between the Pakistan government and TTP, there is a steady rise in the attacks by the banned outfit and apparently, they are regrouping in Afghanistan. When the Taliban came into power they assured the regional countries that Afghanistan’s soil would not be used against any country.
Besides, the counterterrorism assurances from the Taliban were a major part of the Doha agreement, 2020. All the verbal reassurances by the Taliban should become practical now, as TTP is using Afghan soil to regroup and target Pakistan once again. Fencing the border has helped in preventing the attacks, as the terror attacks from Afghanistan have remarkably declined from 2020 onwards. However, since the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban take over in Kabul, TTP has claimed responsibility for over 70 terrorist attacks in Pakistan, which is alarming.
Secondly, the Afghan Taliban must ensure that the spoilers and terrorist groups do not take advantage of the ever-emerging unpredictable circumstances. The ISKP threat in Afghanistan is very strong and its collaboration with TTP or any other terror faction will be a lethal blow to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. So this threat should be timely neutralized because any kind of compound threat matrix rising from the residual or new recruitments in the terrorist organizations will create havoc.
Thirdly, there appears to be a distance between the leaders and foot soldiers among Afghan Taliban; middle and lower tiers seem to have different motives and ideologies. Taliban members in the lower ranks have sympathies for TTP militants which is going to be disastrous for Pakistan and the regional peace. Afghan Taliban needs to address this issue on priority, because any sympathy for militant groups means safe heavens and that means cross border attacks on Pakistan from Afghan soil.
Read more: Triumph of the Afghan Taliban: a double-barreled gun for China- Pakistan?
So the spoilers are going to play two cards at a time
First, they will try to instigate the Pashtun ethnic nationalism at both sides of the border and secondly they will stir the Takfiri narrative (labeling other Muslims as kafir (non-believer) and infidels, and legitimizing violence against them) that will target Pakistan, the way it has been doing since 2007. Both situations will escalate the situation to another dimension, extremely catastrophic for the region.
Pakistan desires utmost peace on its western border that was consumed by violent extremism for the last 14 years. As the first National Security Policy has been approved, besides traditional security threats Pakistan wants to focus on non-traditional challenges including economy, water and population growth. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan were fighting an unending war and now is the time to take constructive and pragmatic measures to defeat the militancy.
Keeping in view the recent incidents, there should be a mutual understanding between Pakistan and Afghan government on every issue concerning both countries. There is a need for a dialogue rather than letting the spoilers ruin a working relationship. As the Taliban transitioned from an insurgent group to a political faction, now is the time for Afghanistan to transition from unending war to sustainable peace. A stable, peaceful Afghanistan is vital for a stable Pakistan.
Mariam Shah is an Islamabad-based independent researcher in the field of Conflict Studies and Military Psychology. She has done MPhil in Peace and Conflict Studies. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.