Are we experiencing a metamorphosis? | By Shanzay Mustafa


Are we experiencing a metamorphosis? 

RECOGNITION is an important element for states – one that defines relations between states as well. The new Taliban government in Kabul has once again fuelled debates regarding questions about recognition and its terms. But it is inevitable to desire regional peace without considering an important regional player such as Afghanistan. Pakistan, undoubtedly, fully understands this task. Recently, tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have experienced new heights as terrorism made a fresh comeback in Pakistan in the post-Kabul takeover scenario.

But if the TPP is undefeatable, should Pakistan wait for its very own personal doomsday? urrently, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership is seen working on diplomatic solutions to serious military and economic problems arising from the key borders Pakistan shares with Afghanistan. This is evident from the recent visit of a high-level delegation led by Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khwaja Asif, accompanied by Director General Inter-Services Intelligence Nadeem Anjum, Foreign Secretary Asad Majid and Special Envoy on Afghanistan Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq. Apparently, a fresh commitment of sorts from the Afghan Taliban regarding the TTP is on the cards.

An important aspect is that the US influence, which may very well still be present, is somewhat dissuaded. What needs to be analyzed is what options it presents to Pakistan. But operating under a strict IMF regime, it is perilous for Pakistan to think of an entirely independent Afghanistan strategy. Nonetheless, the recent visit of the Pakistani leadership to Kabul is nothing short of a confirmation that Pakistan is willing to move forward diplomatically first. Even if Pakistan is to act in a coercive manner, as recently seen, it happens only as a reactive policy stance. As this new wave of terrorism in the country finds strongholds, it dispels the notion that Pakistan has somewhat come to terms with the presence of the TTP on its soil – appearing to operate ferociously. But if Pakistan was to announce an all-out offensive against the group, it possesses the ability to complete this mission without fail. However, that would mean a continuous threat from the Afghan Taliban, further eroding peace and stability in Pakistan.

In all likelihood, as we dwell on IMF bailouts, diplomacy may as well be the smartest policy choice. But Pakistan’s policy choices vis-a-vis Afghanistan are mostly a result of what the country has learned over a span of more than 20 years of the US War on Terror. As a US-assumed frontline state in this war, Pakistan has closely learned what works for it and what must not be on its list of possible solutions to the terror problem. What led to a rising discontent between the TTP and the Pakistani government? The answer to this lies in the years of fighting as part of the US War on Terror in Afghanistan. Unconditionally, Pakistan’s participation was inevitable. Afghan-Pakistan borders are at the heart of the many reasons that account for Pakistan’s participation. Secondly, Pakistan enjoys some leverage against the TTP, but clearly, the TTP seems distant from this fact. While the US troop withdrawal favoured Pakistan and its neighbours, it meant that Pakistan was about to enter a new phase of terrorism.

If one was to quickly understand the various phases of the War on Terror for a better perspective, the conclusion would be as follows. The first phase began with President Bush’s announcement of the Global War on Terror and Pakistan’s participation in it, with an announcement of diplomatic and intelligence aid by the then President General Parvez Musharraf. The second phase began with President Obama’s new Af-Pak strategy, and later, the post-Osama-bin-Laden killing decision of ultimate US troop reduction from Afghanistan. Though afterward, a reversal of this policy was seen. Especially from 2009 to 2017, the US War on Terror had now fully been converted into Pakistan’s own War on Terror. The next and third phase began with President Donald Trump’s rendition of President Obama’s Af-Pak strategy – the South Asia Strategy.

As luck would have it, this policy was about to alter the entirety of the War on Terror, as Trump not only proposed an eventual troop withdrawal from Afghanistan but also took an offensive stance against Pakistan. It deeply impacted Pakistan’s geostrategic standing – but not for long. Effectively, Pakistan sought to reorient its regional alliances and forge better strategic and diplomatic relations with its neighbours such as China, Russia and Central Asian States. Pakistan also rebalanced its ties with the Gulf States such as Iran and KSA. While the Trump Administration continued to dismantle and discourage progress on CPEC projects, Pakistan smartly designed a balancing act between the superpowers China and the US. Another hallmark of this phase is the Afghan Peace Process.

The fourth phase began as the Afghan Peace Process came to an end, and the US troops were withdrawn. The Kabul takeover took place in August 2021. For Pakistan, it meant renewed concerns were on the cards regarding regional peace and stability, and rightly so. Pakistan, since then, has seen a fresh wave of terrorism, border tensions with the Afghan Taliban, repercussions of the reorganization of the TTP, and a plethora of governance issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, if a lesson from recent history is drawn, it may be said that if the TTP has maintained its strongholds in the country, Pakistan has also remained largely undefeatable. It is a challenge that years of war have already trained Pakistan well for. The new policy approach towards this issue is diplomatic, not coercive – and the military and political establishment appears to be on one page. Yet, Pakistan continues to disperse and dismantle any threat to its national security and sovereignty on a daily basis.

—The writer is a governance and policy researcher at the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at FCCU. She has also assisted policymakers at various levels.