Afghanistan under Taliban rule: Pakistan may be an essential station in building a relationship between the West and the movement

Afghanistan under Taliban rule: Pakistan may be an essential station in building a relationship between the West and the movement
Afghanistan under Taliban rule: Pakistan may be an essential station in building a relationship between the West and the movement
  • James Landell
  • BBC diplomatic correspondent

4 Sep 2021 03:56 GMT

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Some in Western countries see that Pakistan has never been an ally in the war on terrorism in the region

Western powers that hope to have influence over the Taliban see that Pakistan may be a good mediator to begin to control the movement.

Pakistan has unique relations with Afghanistan, as the common border between the two countries extends about 2,570 kilometers, and it is also a very important trading partner for that country that fell into the hands of the militant movement. There are also cultural, ethnic and religious links between them. Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan president, described his country and Pakistan as “inseparable brothers”.

But for some capitals eager to revive relations with Islamabad and queuing up to do so, there are turbulent feelings.

Not everyone sees Pakistan as a clear ally in the war on terror perpetrated by terrorist groups. Pakistan faces accusations by many in the United States and other countries that it supports the Taliban, which Islamabad denies.

But diplomats in the West want to persuade the Taliban to allow their own citizens to leave Afghanistan, the need for humanitarian access, as well as demands for moderate rule of the country. This means that they need to talk to countries like Pakistan and other countries in the region.

What is the nature of the relationship between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Taliban?

Pakistan faces accusations that it is placing its bet on Afghanistan and the Taliban.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks planned in Afghanistan, Pakistan took its place among US allies in the so-called “war on terror”.

But at the same time, officials in the Pakistani army and intelligence services maintained links with militant movements in Afghanistan such as the Taliban. These connections, or as they are called as they are, turned into a great material and logistical support for these groups.

Strategic experts believe that Pakistan wanted a piece of Afghanistan’s cake to ensure that this country did not end up with a pro-India government. But the extent and duration of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban remains a matter of dispute among those interested in this region.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan 20 years ago, Islamabad was one of the few countries that recognized its government. When the Taliban captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that the movement was “breaking the shackles of slavery”.

What worries Pakistan?

Pakistan’s historical support for the Taliban does not mean that the Pakistani government is completely satisfied with the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan. Islamabad has suffered greatly from militant terrorist groups that launch attacks on the border areas from inside Afghanistan.

The refugee crisis, which arose from the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, constitutes an additional source of concerns for the government of Pakistan, which already hosts three million Afghan refugees who fled their country due to previous wars, and with the deterioration of the economic conditions of Islamabad, it is likely that it will not be able to provide more support to the refugees new ones.

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Pakistan hosts nearly 3 million Afghan refugees who have fled to Pakistan since the time of previous wars

“Actually, we don’t have the capacity to host more refugees, so we’re suggesting that we sit down and work to avoid this possibility,” Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK Moazzam Ahmed Khan told BBC Today programme.

What does all this mean for relations with the West?

At the outset, we must admit that Pakistan’s relations with the West are not very good.

And perhaps the worst of those relations with the United States, and the evidence for this is that the American President Joe Biden, since taking office, refused to even contact the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan.

Lieutenant General Herbert McMaster, a former White House national security adviser, told a Policy Exchange symposium this week that Pakistan should be treated as a “pariah state” if it did not stop supporting militant groups.

“We must stop assuming that Pakistan is a partner when it was our enemy by organizing, training and equipping these forces as well as continuing to exploit terrorist jihadist organizations as an arm of its foreign policy,” McMaster said.

But this American point of view did not stop the forces of the West from knocking on Pakistan’s door. The past few days have witnessed official visits by the British and German foreign ministers to Islamabad, and the Italian Foreign Minister is expected to go there within days.

Diplomats believe, or so they hope, that Pakistan still has some leverage over the Taliban. They also fear that Pakistan’s ostracism by Western powers will encourage it to immerse itself in the warm embrace of China.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Prada, widely considered to be the head of Afghanistan’s new government, has spent time in Pakistani prisons, so the extent of his affection for his former jailer remains unknown.

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