NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 44

Pak-Afghan relations under Taliban

The Taliban regime of Afghanistan, known as Emirate-e-Islami Afghanistan, has completed one year in power and during the period relations between Kabul and Islamabad have deteriorated instead of improving. There are several reasons for the decline in relations between the two countries, however, before dilating upon the reasons it becomes important to briefly understand the context of ties between the two sides.

The Afghan Taliban rose to prominence in 1994 and within a couple of years captured entire Afghanistan through the force of arms by defeating rival militias during the civil war. Soon after their emergence, Pakistan, under former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1993-96), extended full support to them against all other warring factions. With Pakistan’s support, the Taliban were able to control entire Afghanistan by September 1996. The then Pakistan Interior Minister Major Gen. Naseerullah Babar had himself admitted that the rise of the Taliban was the handiwork of Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto would call them “my children.”

There has been another important link between Pakistan and the Taliban; most of their commanders received religious education in seminaries in Pakistan. Therefore, they got their religious indoctrination in Pakistan under the tutelage of Pakistani clerical teachers. They have been under dual influence of Pakistan, both religiously and politically. However, this does not mean that they have been Pakistani stooges and Pakistan could make them do whatever it wants them to do. A typical power relation between Pakistan and the Taliban has never existed. However, true to any national interest-driven state, Pakistan has been doing whatever it could to control and dictate them.

Nevertheless, many in the West and Afghanistan have been thinking otherwise and considered them Pakistan’s stooges with the latter having a domineering influence on the former. This thinking has been misconstrued. This is despite the fact that Islamabad helped them dominate the battlefield against the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), other foreign forces and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) since their 2001 ouster and occupation of Afghanistan by alien troops. When they returned to power in August 2021, the then Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan dubbed it a prevalence of justice.

Therefore, when they recaptured Afghanistan in August last year, the entire world expected it to be a victory for Pakistan and its Afghan policy of extending all-out support to them against all other anti-Taliban forces, including the elected government of President Hamid Karzai and President Ashraf Ghani. Moreover, after they started their second stint in power and the role Pakistan played in bringing them back, everyone expected exemplary relations between them. However, what we have seen in the last year is diametrically opposite to what the world and Pakistan might have expected. The Taliban have taken every possible step and issued many statements which clearly suggest that they are not stooges of Pakistan and would like to pick fights with it.

In this connection, they extended full support to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a Pakistani militant-terrorist group which has unleashed a reign of terror since its emergence in 2007, killing thousands of Pakistanis including schoolchildren in bomb blasts, car bombs and above all suicide attacks. By nurturing and hosting Pakistan’s bete noire, the TTP, the Taliban regime’s aims have been quite clear. This is to put Pakistan on the defensive vis-à-vis their regime so that it may not expect anything favorable from Kabul. Hosting and supporting the TTP is also motivated by their vested interests instead of larger Afghan interests. The TTP has been providing militants and crucial logistical support to them in fighting and dominating their rivals in the Afghan battlefield. It has been this critical support from the TTP that they have been able to dominate their rivals, particularly overpowering Afghan state forces to recapture power. However, getting support from militants and that too from foreign militants is in no way in the interest of Afghanistan as it could create a number of issues for its national integrity, because the TTP only supports the Taliban, which is in no way a representative of all Afghan people. In fact, they have come to power through the force of arms and not by winning elections. So, we don’t exactly know their real political support base.

Nurturing the TTP by the Afghan regime directly goes against the interest of Pakistan. However, while extending support to the TTP, the Taliban regime had least regard for the legitimate interest of Pakistan while it failed to calculate that if Pakistan, a far bigger and resourceful country, may react and it would create an existential threat to their regime.

Another important anti-Pakistan stance of the Afghan Taliban in the last year has been that they, like all other past regimes, have declared that they don’t recognize the Durand Line as a settled border with Pakistan. The world and international law clearly consider the Durand Line as the established international border between the two countries. In fact, in a couple of incidents, Taliban troops tried to uproot the barbed wire Pakistan placed through painstaking years of effort on the 2,640KM long border. Moreover, there have been attacks across the border by the TTP inside Pakistan, inviting the Pakistani wrath in the shape of artillery and rocket attacks on their hideouts in which 47 militants were killed.

In order to offend Pakistan, Afghan Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoob offered India to train Taliban troops. The statement and offer, given sometime back during an interview to a foreign media channel, was very much premeditated to put Pakistan on the defensive. Interestingly, the only reason that Pakistan has been providing all-out support to the Taliban in Afghanistan has been to have a friendly, if not an anti-India government, in Kabul, so that Pakistan could avoid double jeopardy in its strategic environment. Keeping the Pakistani interest in view, the offer is understandable.

In the most recent anti-Pakistan measure, Mullah Yaqoob blamed Pakistan for allowing its airspace to a US drone to launch an attack on a Kabul locality to kill Al Qaeda chief Aiman Al Zawahiri in July. Pakistan vehemently denied providing support for US drone attacks on Afghanistan.

Keeping all these developments, one does not think that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan will normalize in the coming months and weeks, rather they would continue to deteriorate.