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Failure of the Afghan state can lead to war with Pakistan, may drag the U.S back to conflict

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Khaama Press
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With the ongoing Afghan Taliban military offensive in Afghanistan against the backdrop of the planned full withdrawal of US-led NATO forces, the uneasy relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan can explode if the Afghan state fails. The Afghan government, established on the heels of the US-led invasion in 2001, is at a critical juncture and will need to decide on how to respond best to the worsening situation as more cities and districts fall. Old wounds and nationalist sentiments could be ignited which could lead to a direct war with Pakistan and which could drag the US back into the AfPak region. Both nations have had an uneasy relationship marked by shifting alliances, general distrust, betrayals, paranoia, and fear.

Pakistan, with its double role in both supporting the US-led efforts in Afghanistan as well as enabling the Afghan militants, has become a common scapegoat for Afghans. Overtly, the Pakistani state and military leadership support a peaceful and stable Afghanistan next door, but covertly the reality has been understood to be different. It is a known fact that the Afghan Taliban have sanctuaries and safe havens in Pakistan, and they enjoy massive propaganda, funding, and recruitment support in the country of over 200 million.  Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby recently called the safe havens in Pakistan a historical problem, where the Afghan Taliban replenish, retrain, and refurbish themselves.  The Afghan Taliban in Pakistan have not received the same wrath and crackdown from the Pakistani state as the Pakistan Taliban received through operations such as Zarb-e-Azb.

While the velocity and impact of current Pakistani state support to the Afghan Taliban is questionable as compared to the initial support given to the Taliban regime in the 1990s. Nevertheless, this notion of support has yielded much hatred and exaggerated bias against Pakistan, and more specifically of its military and intelligence bureaucracy.  In Pakistan, likewise, similar biases and sentiments have persisted against Afghans and the Afghan government. Nationalists on both sides are eager to exploit this critical moment, and any mishap can result in fateful results.

With the Afghan conventional military struggling against the Taliban, the casualty figures for the Afghan National Defense Forces continue to rise as noted in the recent massacre of 22 Afghan commandos. Furthermore, Afghan civilian casualties are up in record numbers, causing more elevated anti-Pakistan sentiments.  This presents a major challenge for the Kabul administration. Out of desperation, the administration, through its networks in the tribal areas of AfPak, can turn the enormous anti-Pakistan sentiments of the populace into an armed conflict by directly and indirectly igniting a war with Pakistan. In fact, a war with an external entity (Pakistan) can unite the different ethnic and militant groups in Afghanistan and could lead to the survival of the current Afghan administration.

The Unfinished Business of The Durand Line and Taliban

The main crux of Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan and hence of Afghanistan’s meddling in the tribal areas of Pakistan has been the Durrand Line issue. Given its experiences with the East Pakistan ethnic war that led to the establishment of Bangladesh, Pakistan’s worst fear is another ethnicity-driven conflict that leads to more partition.  Pakistan does not want nor trust a nationalist establishment next door, which can ignite a Pashtun or Baluch insurgency at home. Hence, Pakistan sees the Afghan Taliban as a more friendly regime compared to a nationalist Afghan one. Pakistan is happy with a proxy neighbor that worries less about borders and more about subjective Shariah implementation and one which will make it easier to control the long porous border. In the ideological world, Pakistan’s conservative influence resonates with the political aspirations of the Afghan Taliban group.  Furthermore, a friendly Afghanistan’s Taliban-run foreign policy will be beneficial to Pakistan to leverage in the region in its own separate rivalry for influence against the Indian state through its long-held concept of gaining “strategic depth.”

For Afghans, the Afghan Taliban are just one more militant group in the arena long with plenty more in the country as multiple militant and ideological groups exist. Almost every militia or a warlord in Afghanistan uses and justifies their actions with Islamic reasonings, so the question begs what difference is the Afghan Taliban group bringing to the table. The current Kabul administration is also based on Islamic law and has an Ulema council that it works with and seeks advice from. Sharia is the dominant form of the current Afghan Constitution. Almost all members of the Afghan government, military, and civic society are Muslims as they come from the same conservative tribal and civil societies that nurture the Afghan militants. For Afghans, it doesn’t make sense to support and promote one specific militant group.

What Can a Desperate Afghan State Do Against Pakistan?

As Badal “revenge,” Afghanistan can guarantee Mutually Assured Terrorism.  Afghanistan, through its long historic networks in the tribal lands, can easily turn to support guerilla and insurgents’ movements to destabilize the Pakistani state and society. Afghanistan, through NDS, can ramp up support for the Baluch insurgents and fuel more ethnic tensions in Pakistan as well as ensure terrorism and militancy is at large and reverse Pakistan’s economic growth. Afghanistan can covertly target the Gwadar port project and dent Pakistan’s ambition to become a regional transshipment economic hub.  Afghanistan knows Pakistan needs the territory and economic activity of CPEC to ensure its sustained growth and any damage to it can adversely affect the socio-economic fabric. For Afghans, if the Pakistani state – through its support of the Taliban – did not allow Afghanistan to fully benefit from the fruits of US/NATO efforts then why should it allow the Pakistani state to fully benefit from the fruits of Chinese efforts. If such targeted operations continue against Pakistan and its economy, Pakistan will be forced to carry out cross-border conventional military incursions – which will then receive direct symmetric and asymmetrical response from the remaining Afghan forces and militias leading to full-scale war. Not only will it be a catastrophe for the region, but it will also have a great international impact with the potential to drag the US and NATO back into the AfPak region – who will not only worry about containing the war but also maintaining the safety of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan.

Conclusion

Pakistan – with its conventional military might, and Afghanistan – with its long experience of symmetrical and asymmetrical warfare, can mutually destruct each other if they choose to continue the war footing.  It is best for both nations to pursue a non-confrontational stance as allies in the region and pursue a diplomatic approach for peace, economic growth, and stability. Pakistan and Afghanistan can in fact work together in the areas of developments in information technology, transport, and communications, medicine, trade, and commerce.  The concept of ‘strategic depth’ and “strategic militancy” and ‘Loy Afghanistan’ will need to be shelved for the better good.  Now is the time to be covertly and overtly sincere as the stability of South Asia and the region beyond depends on real peace between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

DISCLAIMER – The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Khaama Press News Agency. We welcome opinions and submissions to Khaama Press Opinions– Please email them to info@khaama.com.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Really is this your assessment. If true be told, the only place you can place the blame is on the Afghan people themselves throughout history you have have been a tribal people with constant infighting which allow external actor to come and invade for your country, to be really nation once must put aside difference and concentrate what is common among your people until that happen you will always be in current predicament Afghanistan find its self in.,

  2. Future of region is already dark with rise of Talibans. Solely blaming Pakistan for current is not logical; why state of Afghanistan powerless against a bunch of terrorists who have nothing to offer except so-called brand of Islam confined to few harsh punishments? Why over 20 millions Afghans, their elite, business class, traders and farmers bodies are silent, despite the fact they will be the worst losers if Talibans take over Kabul? There is need to find out flaws inside which encourage neighbors rather than blaming others. If political structure of Afghanistan was federal with four or five federating units, with each federal unit with resources and powers, Talibans would never have made such gains.

  3. Future of region is already dark with rise of Talibans. Solely blaming Pakistan for current scenario is not logical; why state of Afghanistan powerless against a bunch of terrorists who have nothing to offer except so-called brand of Islam confined to few harsh punishments? Why over 20 millions Afghans, their elite, business class, traders and farmers bodies are silent, despite the fact they will be the worst losers if Talibans take over Kabul? There is need to find out flaws inside which encourage neighbors rather than blaming others. If political structure of Afghanistan was federal with four or five federating units, each federal unit with resources and powers, Talibans would never have made such gains.

  4. The article is based on some old thoughts haunting our Afghan brothers who are not taking in account the historical events. Pakistan taken as spoiler will never solve the issue as relations between people on both sides are much deeper than perceived. Pakistan can not progress or achieve any peace with out a settled Afghanistan. Point to ponder for all can be if Afghanistan having well trained Army under best fighting machine like USA can not protect its geographical boundaries then last so many years who has been bluffing the Afghan Nation. Talking of strategic depth and Indian fear can be simply understood from Feb 2019 response to Indian desire to establish strategic dominance where Indian went totally blank. Afghan think tanks have to review whole scenario in regional and global settings. Pakistan and only Pakistan will be the looser in future conflicts in Afghanistan.

    • If Afghanistan Government is not capable of dealing with Taliban then how can they deal with Pakistan? Anyways Pakistan is hosting 3 million Afghan Refugees. And Afghanistan should be thankful to Pakistan. Why US and NATO could not achieve their objectives in Afghanistan? This write up is simply Pathetic.

      • Refugees built your Pakistan … Before afghans coming to Pakistan you were dirty and poor country… You got some culture and money Form them and UN billiona of Refugee money that you put in your pockets .m shame on you!

  5. if the writer and this website can stomach the truth, the Afghan people have no one else to blame but them themselves with your endless tribal wars between different afghan fractions you created an environment where you let external actors like India and US run there own proxy wars using your country, Afghanistan now faces two either cease to exit as a nation or stop the infighting between different ethnic group and form a nation which join the world.

  6. If your leadership was honest and had focussed on the development and eliminating the poverty with the US aid of billions of dollars and had stayed away from Indian filth there would have been no taliban. No power or strategy now can stop taliban from gaining full control of the country as majority of afghan want them and see them as their saviours from the corrupt brutal and merciless afghan warlord who unfortunately formed the current Kabul government

  7. The writer fails to mention President Ghani’s failure to negotiate with the Taliban in good faith. I hold him responsible for the suffering of our brothers and sisters in beautiful Afghanistan.

  8. Haha the forces that can’t resist Taliban are supposed to attack Pakistani territory?
    Secondly, what you are suggesting to target CPEC is what you people are doing already.
    Afghanistan has safe heavens of TTP that are nurtured by Afghan govt that fled the country

  9. I was wondering, if any Afghan political intellectual ever comprehended the difference between nationalism, tribalism and Sharia law. Whereas, most people or 99% Afghanistan is considered as devoted Muslims with Islamic mindset with certain tribal culture and practice. On the other hand nationalism totally contradict with anything related to Sharia law. that clearly says ‘All sovereignty belong to Allah’ and there is no if, no, and buts about it………..PERIOD !’. So to draft a new constitution with inclusive representation shall be waste of time. Either have an all inclusive Islamic constitution base on Shari law or try to develop a constitution base on tribal practice and culture of Afghanistan may be more prudent. Considering this country and its inhabitants are in line with such laws. Why waste time. When did myth works hands in hand with science.?

  10. This is your assement? That your threat is assymetric warfare…meaning terroism? Pakistan will bomb the tar out of and send you to hide in the mountains for another 20 years to contemplate your idiotic interpretation of Islam. There is only one Muslim Army in this region and that is Pakistan. We will build the fence in Kabul if you don’t like where it is.

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