AS confusion clouds the future of Afghanistan with the Taliban on the rampage across the hapless country, and the government in Kabul unable to put up a solid defence, neighbouring states, including Pakistan, must prepare for the worst where refugees are concerned.

The Afghan Taliban over the last few days have struck Kandahar airport with rockets, while the armed movement is also mounting an assault on the western city of Herat. Indicating the level of frustration in Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has attributed the fast-deteriorating situation to the “abrupt” US withdrawal. As things fall apart very quickly in Afghanistan, neighbouring countries are bracing themselves for an expected exodus of refugees.

Read: Who messed up Afghanistan?

While speaking in Washington recently, National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf reiterated the government’s position that safe zones be created within Afghanistan where non-combatants can find shelter, and that the international community must help in this regard. “Pakistan does not have the capacity to take more refugees,” he told a presser in the US capital. However, in the midst of these grim developments, peace talks are due in the days ahead in Doha under the umbrella of the ‘Extended Troika’, which brings together Russia, China, the US and Pakistan, to try and hammer out a solution to the Afghan imbroglio.

It is clear that only a miracle can make the Taliban suspend their assault and agree to talk peace with Kabul. Therefore, the meeting in Doha will be a do-or-die event where a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict is concerned, and hopes should not be too high about chances of its success. If anything, regional states must get assurances that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for transnational terrorist movements in areas controlled by the Taliban. The latter, too, should consider that if they reimpose the old obscurantist order they promoted during their earlier rule, and provide sanctuary to terrorists, regional states and global powers will take action.

As for the refugee question, Pakistan’s position is a fair one as this country simply cannot afford a fresh influx. Therefore, Pakistan must work with the UN and other international bodies, as well as those states that have been meddling in Afghanistan’s internal affairs for the last few decades, to ensure Afghan civilians are safely housed within their own country away from the conflict. Intra-Afghan peace talks should be promoted, but the global community must be ready for the imminent collapse of the Afghan state.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2021

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