Pak-Afghan relations, need for reciprocity | By Akbar Jan Marwat


Pak-Afghan relations, need for reciprocity

EVER since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Pakistan has been leading efforts to persuade the international community, especially the US to maintain a working relationship with the new Afghan regime.

But is Pakistan getting the required reciprocal support from the Afghan Taliban in dealing with the TTP and some other terrorist organizations? The short answer to this question is that: The Afghan Taliban are not giving Pakistan the kind of support which Pakistan expected.

The Afghan Taliban had promised that nobody would be allowed to use Afghan territory for terrorist activities against any other country.

The Afghan Taliban have, however, not taken any action against TTP, in spite of clear proofs that they have targeted Pakistani security agencies lately. The best that the Afghan Taliban have done is, to advise Pakistan to hold negotiations with the TTP under the mediation of Haqani Group.

On 16 and 17 December 2021, an extraordinary session of the organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministries was held in Islamabad on Pakistan’s initiative. The situation in neighbouring Afghanistan was discussed exhaustively.

This was Pakistan’s major initiative to not only involve the 57-member OIC body but also get observer delegation from the United States, China, Russia and the EU. The session decided on a Humanitarian Trust Fund and Food Security Program to deal with the rapidly worsening food crisis in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister spoke at the extraordinary session and warned the world that, unless immediate measures were taken Afghanistan could become the biggest “man-made crises” in the world.

Imran Khan’s warning is confirmed by the recent assessments put out by the United Nations to relevant bodies regarding the crises unfolding in Afghanistan.

Relief efforts for the starving people of Afghanistan is, of course, urgent and essential. But at the same time, certain promises that the interim Taliban regime made to the international community must also be fulfilled.

It was also expected by the international community that Pakistan would play a role in making sure that these commitments by the Taliban regime reach fruition.

Many of the promises by the Taliban regime have not been kept, the way the international community and Pakistan expected.

While there is a token representation of non-Pushtoon ethnic representation in the government, the regime has not in any meaningful way reached out to other ethnic minorities and the women. Thus there seems to be no process of ensuring their rights and participation in the political process.

It is also of some concern to the international community how the Taliban leaders interpret the concepts of women’s rights and inclusiveness. These concepts clearly fall short of International norms and standards.

The interim Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Muttaqi, hardened this suspicion, when he said at the OIC session, “We as a representative and responsible government of the Afghan people consider human rights, women rights and participation by all capable Afghans from various regions our duty”.

But he went on to add that, “a very effective decree was announced by the leader of the Islamic Emirate about the rights of women which shall prove instrumental in giving them their rights”.

According to Afghanistan, women rights groups; while declaring women ‘free’ no mention is made of their right to education and professional work and was dismissed by some Afghan women activists as: “Posturing intended for international community not Afghan Women.”

It is clear that the world wants the Taliban government to accept and act according to international standards in granting inclusivity to women and other minorities, in Afghanistan.

Once these conditions are met, will the West think about granting legitimately and help, in ameliorating the conditions prevailing in Afghanistan.

Pakistan in its eagerness to help Afghanistan, is urging the West to de-link these pre-conditions, in providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. For Pakistan, the provision of humanitarian and food aid to Afghanistan is also linked to two other important issues.

These issues are the large influx of refugees from Afghanistan, in case of acute food shortage and associated problem of terrorism, which could enter Pakistan along with refugees.

The Taliban government in Kabul, in spite of Pakistan’s all-encompassing help is not even prepared to accept the reality of the Pak-Afghan border called the Durand Line.

The Taliban government has refused to accept the Durand Line as a d jure boarder, on the pretext, that the border was demarcated by the Colonial British Power with the then Amir of Afghanistan, Abdul Rehman Khan, who was apparently under duress to accept the arrangement. The border issue is lingering on to this day, underlining Afghanistan’s irredentist claim to Pakistan’s territory.

Several days ago, the Taliban fighters took away rolls of barbed wire, which Pakistani soldiers were using to erect a fence on our side of the borders. It is said that Pakistan, in order to diffuse the situation, agreed to a consensual approach for setting up the fence.

This in my opinion is wrong, as it is tantamount to compromising our sovereignty on our side of border.

As mentioned above, Afghanistan has not even kept its word, regarding use of force against various group of militants present on Afghan Soil, and indulging in terrorist activities against Pakistan.

These militant groups include the TTP; Baloch conglomerate Baloch Raji Aajoos Sangar (BRAS) and Islamic state – Khorasan. It is quite disconcerting that Afghanistan in behaving in such a nonchalant manner against Pakistan, which is doing so much for its neighbour.

Some scholars believe that it would be naïve to expect from Afghan Taliban to use force against TTP, as both have same DNA and world-view.

It seems Pakistan’s generosity knows no limits, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, as recently it allowed Afghan trucks carrying Indian wheat through its country.

Now this may be a one-time ask on part of the Afghan Taliban but there always seems to be the possibility by the Afghan Taliban, to use the Indian card, whenever the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are strained. The Afghan Taliban advice to Pakistan to negotiate with the TTP is certainly a very bad idea.

This idea is tantamount with talking to murders and killers of innocent Pakistanis, besides being a non-starter as TTP’s previous record amply shows. No doubt these negotiations did not get anywhere, in spite of undue enthusiasm shown by our Prime Minister.

In conclusion, Pakistan is doing the correct and neighbourly thing, by trying to engage with the world, to ameliorate the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. But at the same time, Pakistan has to pressurize Afghanistan not to have a nonchalant attitude about the issues which are of existential importance to Pakistan.

The Taliban regime must clearly recognize the centuries-old Durand Line and more importantly, as per its promise, it must use coercive force against the TTP, and stop it from using Afghan territory as a launching pad of terrorist activities against Pakistan.

—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.

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