THE situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate as Afghan Taliban capture more territory and start to threaten major cities. Britain has advised its citizens to evacuate Afghanistan immediately given the gravity of the situation. Prospects of a negotiated settlement of the conflict appear remote and all domestic and external stakeholders are now bracing for a protracted civil war.
The spillover of this violence will affect all neighbours of Afghanistan and the region as a whole. Diplomatic efforts by the US, Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan have failed to produce dividends and therefore it is prudent to ask who should share the blame for this terrible fate that has befallen Afghanistan. There is enough blame for everyone, which means it is unfair to pin most of it on Pakistan that the US and many Western countries appear to be preparing to do. Pakistan may have made mistakes in the past by choosing favourites but times have changed and lessons have been learnt.
It is true that Pakistan has in the past enjoyed significant leverage with the Taliban but the poor outcome of the Doha talks shows that this leverage is now limited. This was evident when on Friday the Taliban shut a border crossing with Pakistan, demanding that visa restrictions be eased. Indeed, no country will be more adversely affected by the situation in Afghanistan than Pakistan. It is in Pakistan’s interest that violence subsides and a power-sharing arrangement between the Taliban and the Kabul government is reached. The absence of such an agreement is not due to lack of trying by Pakistan.
The threat of terrorism spilling across into our territory has now become a major concern. It is estimated that terrorists belonging to TTP, Al Qaeda and IS number over 7,000 and are based in Afghan territory across the border from Pakistan. The chances of them slipping into Pakistan along with the flow of refugees are very real. These concerns have been communicated to all key players and it is hoped that the gravity of such threats will be duly acknowledged by them.
The primary concern for Pakistan at this stage should be security of the homeland. There is not much that it can do to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan but there is a lot that it must do to minimise the impact of the potential spillover. During their recent visit to the US, National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf and DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed are reported to have communicated these concerns to US officials. Foremost among these concerns is Pakistan’s argument that refugees should be camped on the Afghan side of the border. The issue remains unresolved and can balloon into a crisis if not handled in a timely manner. The Pakistani leadership should start communicating its policies in light of the evolving situation so that there is no ambiguity on where we stand.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2021