Saturday, April 20, 2024

Pakistan faces disappointment on bilateral deals with the new regime in Afghanistan

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Khaama Press
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Author: Noman Hossain, freelance journalist

Recent events on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border make it clear that Pakistan’s decades old Afghanistan policy has failed. On 11 December 2022, Taliban forces in Afghanistan shelled a town just across the border in Pakistan, killing seven Pakistani civilians. Pakistan retaliated, killing one Taliban fighter and injuring ten Afghans. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the “unprovoked shelling” by Afghan forces. On 15 December, the two sides exchanged artillery fire across the border, killing at least one Pakistani civilian and wounding 15 others. Both countries are today on the verge of war! These developments signal a turn in ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan and signals Pakistan’s loss of control over the Afghan Taliban, which is today a government in power.

While the world’s attention is on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, violence in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has gone unnoticed, even though the potential for a serious catastrophe persists and grows by the day. Pakistan summoned an Afghan diplomat over “unprovoked” artillery fire at their border. “Afghan Chargé d’Affaires in Islamabad was called to the foreign ministry and Pakistan’s strong condemnation was conveyed over recent incidents of unprovoked cross-border shelling resulting in a loss of life, injuries and damage to property,” the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, as Aljazeera quoted. The deadly clash is believed to have erupted over the construction of a border checkpoint by Pakistan, which has been trying to fence its porous border with Afghanistan, as Aljazeera wrote. Pakistan said it remained committed to “maintaining fraternal relations with Afghanistan” and described quiet borders as “intrinsic” to that objective.

The conflict has episodically occurred ever since the Taliban takeover of Kabul on 15 August last year. The deep state in Pakistan, once believed the Taliban would help them build “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Yet the same Afghan Taliban, once hailed as a “strategic asset” has today turned into a foe. Developments since last year, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, in violation of the Doha pact with the US, Imran Khan, then PM of Pakistan, declared triumphantly that the Taliban had broken “the shackles of slavery.”Many other Pakistanis also celebrated. Today, they are rueing their statements!

Within just a few days of their victory, the new rulers of Kabul released members of the Pakistani Taliban (known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) who had been imprisoned in Afghan jails — the same people who have spent years waging war on the government in Islamabad. The new government in Kabul has also pointedly refused to accept the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, known as the Durand Line, drawn by the British over a century ago. Pakistan was well aware that the Taliban planned to gradually take over Afghanistan, but chose not to tell the US, which at the end of the day had to beat a hasty retreat as it had done in Vietnam. Even after the fall of Kabul, Pakistan tried to maintain its support for the Afghan Taliban while simultaneously keeping the US happy, an ambiguous policy that left no one happy at the end of the day.

In fact, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, then DG ISI went above his then Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa and flew to Kabul in mid-2021 to support Taliban’s efforts against the Panjshir fighters in Northern Afghanistan. Pak Army SSG fought alongside the Taliban at this time. This was also the time when many TTP leaders were released by Pakistan. Lt. Gen. Hameed visited Kabul again this year to persuade the Afghan Taliban to broker a peace deal with the TTP. He failed in this mission also. The consequences of this flawed policy are there for all to see; the TTP is back in Pakistan (KPK and northern Balochistan) in full force. Terrorist attacks in Pakistan have increased by 51 percent since the Afghan Taliban seized power.

The killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul in July 2022 by a US drone sent already tense relations between the Afghans and the Pakistanis to a new low. The Taliban blamed Islamabad for al-Zawahiri’s death, which in a way was not incorrect as Pakistan allowed the US to use its airspace to launch the strike. Pakistan’s incumbent Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has visited many countries; but he is yet to visit Kabul! He sent his Deputy, Hina Rabbani Khar to Kabul. She was the first female minister to attempt to hold talks with the Taliban. But the Taliban Defence Minister (the oldest son of Afghan Taliban leader Mohammad Omar) refused to meet her.

The current situation on the border arose subsequent to General Asim Munir taking over as the new Chief of the Pakistani army. The next day, four civilians were killed in a suicide bombing in Pakistan; the TTP claimed responsibility. General Asim Munir presided over a meeting of senior generals at General Headquarters (GHQs) in Rawalpindi soon after taking over. It was decided to launch military operations against the TTP in KPK and northern Balochistan. The decision to launch the military operation followed the attack on the Pakistani embassy in Kabul earlier in December 2022 and the Afghan Border Forces attack on the Chaman Border that resulted in the deaths of six Pakistani civilians.

More recently, TTP fighters took police personnel hostage at the Counter Terrorism in Bannu hostage and sought safe passage to Afghanistan in return for the hostages. The Afghan Taliban is challenging Pakistan by letting loose the TTP on Pakistan. It is also challenging Pakistan directly by engaging in open clashes on the Durand Line. The Afghan Taliban think they defeated the US and therefore they can also defeat Pakistan. This may be a misplaced notion, but it certainly creates heightened tensions between the two nations. At the end of the day, one sees the unravelling of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. This will have consequences for the region as a whole. In the short term, it will impact Pakistan. The return of the TTP means that the Pakistan state will have to tackle this terrorist organization, once again, possibly with military force. The new Army Chief certainly has a lot to chew on! How successful he will be in doing this remains moot, as his predecessor Gen. Bajwa failed miserably.

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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