Pakistan’s New Endgame in Afghanistan: Mitigate Blowback
September 1, 2021
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has certainly bolstered Islamabad’s position vis-à-vis its rivalry with New Delhi, yet troubling signs are already emerging that Frankenstein monsters could end up uniting against the Pakistani state.
According to a post in the Indian Defense Research Wing, New Delhi is certainly concerned that Pakistan will attempt to leverage its new victory to oust the Indians from Kashmir. The next few months will determine if the Afghan Taliban will keep their word and stay out of Kashmir but there is a likelihood that elements of the group, with help of their ISI sponsors, will not live up to this commitment and cause havoc in the region as they did in the 1990s, the article written by Rajesh Ahuja said.
The Indian army was able to defeat the militants that numbered around 4,000, Ahuja wrote, and will fight them again even if it “inches both countries to a nuclear cloud.” He also said abandoning Kashmir is not an option given its proximity to India’s capital.
The move will surely embolden anti-India terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad but the threat could go beyond just Kashmir. Gautam Mukhopadhaya, the former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, told Voice of America that the Taliban victory will have an “inspirational effect” on Islamist opposition everywhere.
“India will have to be on guard not only in Kashmir but the rest of India, too, where an Islamist victory in the neighborhood could fire up fringe elements,” he warned.
During an interview last week, Neelam Irshad Sheikh, a spokesperson of Imran Khan’s PTI, said the Taliban are “saying that they are with us, and they will help us in Kashmir.” Meanwhile, Masood Azar, leader of JeM, reportedly visited Kandahar recently where he asked Taliban leaders for help in the struggle in Kashmir.
However, although India is right to be worried about recent developments, Pakistan may have failed to foresee the downside of allowing the Taliban to have free reign over Afghanistan despite the “strategic depth” it provides.
During the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s, Pakistani leader Genera Zia told C.I.A. Director William Casey that although they should “keep the pot boiling” in Afghanistan they should avoid allowing it to boil over. Islamabad then feared a direct Soviet attack on Pakistan if they upset the giant, but now it appears they must contain their extended expeditionary force that just captured Kabul.
For example, shortly after the Afghan Taliban seized the country’s capital it renewed its alliance with Pakistan’s TTP, which has long been trying to overthrow Islamabad.
In fact, in recent days two Pakistani troops were killed from gunfire that emanated from across the border with Afghanistan – the first such attack since the August 16 lighting-seizure of Kabul. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack in a Telegram message shared with Reuters.
“We expected that the way things were unfolding in Afghanistan, the violence can spill over in Pakistan,” Army spokesman Major General Babar Iftikhar said at a presser last week.
Pakistan will try to convince the Afghan Taliban that it is in their best interests to not give safe haven to TTP fighters, but the ideological bond between the two movements will be hard to break.
The signals from the new government in Kabul have been somewhat ambivalent, suggesting they will not allow Afghanistan to become home to terrorists but is obviously not willing to alienate the TTP.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad claimed Islamabad has received commitments from the radical movement.
“Taliban have reassured us that they will not allow TTP to carry out attacks on Pakistan territory,” the interior minister said this week.
In addition to fueling the refugee crisis on its border, the fall of Kabul has drawn international opprobrium. Many states are already calling for sanctions against Islamabad for supporting and providing sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban which greatly aided them in toppling Ghani’s government.
Former CIA station chief in Pakistan, Robert Grenier, told The New York Times Pakistan should be careful what it wished for in terms of backlash from across the border and from the international community.
“If the Afghan Taliban become leaders of a pariah state, which is likely, Pakistan will find itself tethered to them,” Grenier said as quoted in the piece published on August 27.
Ironically, Pakistan has called for the international community to remain engaged in Afghanistan to prevent “spoilers” from disrupting the peace process and destabilizing the country.
It is important to underscore that Pakistan is not the only one to blame for the current predicament considering the Americans are the ones who installed and enabled the corrupt government in Kabul in the first place, which paved the road for a Taliban comeback.
However, I do not think anyone believes that the Americans will face any sanctions for their destructive role.