FOREIGN MINISTER Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s flying visit to Kabul on Thursday is the first official high-level engagement between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban since the latter’s ascension to power in August. Soon after his return, Mr Qureshi described his meetings with the acting Afghan prime minister, Mullah Muhammad Hassan Akhund, and his cabinet colleagues as result-oriented and positive. The two sides, according to the foreign minister, discussed international concerns, including human rights and women’s rights, the need for an inclusive government, trade and regional connectivity and the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Pakistan on its part has stressed why it is important for the hard-line rulers to address international concerns to avoid economic collapse. The fact that DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed was part of the delegation makes it obvious that the emerging security threat to Afghanistan and the region from IS-K and other militant groups, particularly the outlawed TTP, also came up for discussion. Mr Qureshi said he “felt reassured” by the firm commitment from the Taliban leadership that the TTP or any other group would not be allowed to use Afghanistan as a launching pad to harm any country. The visit also saw Pakistan announcing a number of measures to boost trade, facilitate border crossing, visa facilitation to enhance people-to-people contact and Rs5bn in humanitarian assistance which will be in addition to the aid already being given to Afghanistan. A delegation of the Taliban regime is now expected in Islamabad in the next few days to further boost bilateral relations and continue discussions on matters of concern to the two countries.

The visit by the foreign minister reflects one important point: that while Islamabad is in no hurry to recognise the nascent Taliban regime — a point discussed with and understood by his Afghan interlocutors — it has made a policy decision to officially engage with ‘a friendly Kabul’ to discuss bilateral issues, find ways to avert a humanitarian crisis in the impoverished country and convey international concerns. That the Afghan Taliban no longer require Islamabad to lobby for their global recognition, given their own direct access to international power corridors, is now as clear as day. What, however, the new rulers of Afghanistan need to understand is that international recognition and the accompanying aid and economic assistance come with certain caveats, without which it will be hard and impossible for them to sustain their second stint in power.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2021

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