The jubilation of Pakistani political elites over the fall of Kabul and the Taliban’s resurgence was unsurprising. Pakistan’s civil-military leadership views the Taliban as strategic assets and guardians of Pakistan’s long-term security interests in the region.
The presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan paves the way for Pakistan to play role as a regional actor.
Pakistan hopes the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will lend a helping hand to counter the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP; Urdu for Taliban Movement in Pakistan) and Pashtun nationalists, recognize the controversial Durand Line as an international border, end Indian presence in Afghanistan and strengthen Pakistan’s strategic depth.
Contrary to its long list of interests, the emerging circumstances seem unfavorable for Pakistan.
On September 29, Republican Senator James Risch along with 21 other high-profile senators submitted a bill in the US Congress to impose sanctions on the Taliban and their sponsoring state, Pakistan. The bill highlighted the role of the Taliban and Pakistan’s support in terms of finance, intelligence, training and strategic guidance.
Pakistan is already facing the worst kind of economic deterioration, with very low GDP growth. Islamabad is also experiencing serious challenges at the diplomatic level. If the bill is approved by the US Congress, it will surely have severe implications on Pakistan’s economy and its global image.
Islamic militant groups, particularly Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) in Afghanistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in China, and TTP as well as other religious extremists in Pakistan have been significantly encouraged by the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The latest monitoring report of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies revealed that the Pakistani Taliban had conducted 55 deadly attacks (including suicides) and target killings across Pakistan.
Additionally, under the leadership of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, TTP has extended its militant network to Baloch separatists in Balochistan, the westernmost province of Pakistan. Security reports also show that TTP has also established ties with some militant groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS-K to strengthen its hold in Pakistan’s tribal and southwestern areas.
The most serious implication of the Afghan Taliban’s resurgence on Pakistan will be the movement of ISIS-K across the border. The rivalry between ISIS-K and the Taliban will significantly impact the security landscapes of Afghanistan as well as Pakistan.
Undoubtedly, the emergence of ultra-violent militant groups in Afghanistan will directly impact the security of Pakistan. Some sources even say that ISIS-K has started recruiting militants from tribal areas of Pakistan, especially Orakzai district of the northwestern province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And the group is also strengthening its ties with the Pakistani Taliban. Any development in this regard will surely threaten the security landscape of Pakistan.
Pakistani religious fanatics observed the fall of Kabul as a victory of Islam and the mujahideen against their enemies. The Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan was zealously celebrated in Pakistani seminaries.
For instance, on September 19, Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head of Jamia Hafsa, an Islamabad-based fundamentalist religious seminary, hoisted dozens of Taliban flags on the rooftop of the seminary. A video circulating on social media also shows Abdul Aziz threatening Capital Territory Police personnel with the words, “Once the Taliban government comes to Pakistan they will teach you a lesson.” This is very dangerous statement.
According to a survey last month by Gallup & Gilani Pakistan, 55% of Pakistanis were happy with the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan and wanted a Taliban-style government in their own country. Some 25% of the respondents rejected the prospect of Taliban-style government, 16% responded that they don’t know, and 4% didn’t respond.
Evidently, the regional scenarios are changing rapidly. The rising US-Sino rivalry in the region is another challenge for Pakistan. The US wants to sabotage the Belt and Road Initiative and contain China’s access to the Indo-Pacific region by any means. China wants to complete its master plan to ensure its presence cross the globe. In these circumstances, Pakistan could face another proxy war in the region.
Pakistan cannot afford the hostility of either the US or China. Pakistan’s support must be tactical and defined. Internal security parameters need serious attention, but the government has blatantly ignored them. Political instability in Pakistan is in full swing, but state authorities are paying zero attention toward it.
It’s high time for Pakistan review its policy toward the Taliban. The wrong policies have brought the country to the brink of insecurity, political instability and economic deterioration.