Islamabad does not want a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan but one which at least does not allow the Afghan soil to be used against it.
India-Pakistan relations have always been troublesome. India, following the partition, thought Pakistan would not be able to sustain itself and soon merge with India. However, that proved wishful thinking. Hence, it started destabilizing Pakistan from its north-western border. Be it India’s support to Faqir of Ipi in the 1950s to destabilize the border region with Afghanistan or later on India’s support for the Pashtunistan cause, India tries to utilize every opportunity to create chaos in Pakistan.
The September 11 incident changed the global dynamics, and the advent of the war on terror brought another opportunity to India to make its foothold strong in Afghanistan and use Afghan soil against Pakistan. India took several measures that helped her make sway in the country. First, India got US support and started humanitarian aid and infrastructure building in Afghanistan. Secondly, India established a cordial relationship with the Afghan leadership. Thirdly, by investing in Afghanistan, it worked on its soft image in the country. Fourth, in the name of developmental projects, India expanded its network in the country that reportedly used to support anti-Pakistan elements on Afghan soil. Through the twenty years since the fall of the Taliban, relations between Islamabad and Kabul remained fragile, and we often saw a blame game. However, the fall of Kabul allowed Pakistan to re-establish its clout in Afghanistan and convince the Taliban regime not to allow Afghan soil to be used against Pakistan. For the said purpose, Pakistan needs the following measures to carry out.
One is to adopt a carrot and stick policy for the Taliban. Pakistan’s leverage on the Taliban before the fall of Kabul has been considerably minimized. Taliban openly criticize Pakistan on the one hand and allow TTP on its soil that carries out attacks on the Pakistani security forces. Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Islamabad is only offering carrots to the Taliban, which has almost no output. Hence, Pakistan needs to exploit the weaknesses of the Taliban and convince them to act against TTP or at least pressure them to strike a peace deal that could end militancy in the tribal belt. Pakistan can also raise the TTP issue in an international forum while hinting at the Doha agreement, where the Taliban has pledged not to allow Afghan soil against the US or its allies. Since Pakistan was a frontline state and an ally in the war on terror, hence, Taliban shall stop TTP from operating on Afghan soil.
Two, Pakistan shall cooperate with China and sign a trilateral security agreement with the Taliban, which obligates the Taliban to take action against any group that attacks any neighboring countries. With Beijing’s collaboration, Pakistan can work on communications infrastructure to make it viable to reach the Central Asian States. Any China-Pakistan joint venture will boost Pakistan’s clout in Afghanistan and bare India from making its roots strong as they did after the US invasion.
Three, Pakistan has the opportunity to cooperate with Iran in Afghanistan. In the past, there was a divergence between Islamabad and Tehran over the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran used to support the Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban group. However, now there is no significant divergence between the Taliban and Iran. Iran also has good relations with China, so all three regional countries can go for security and trade agreements with the Taliban, which will be helpful for all the parties.
Four, Pakistan needs to work on its soft image in Afghanistan, as it has tarnished in the last two decades. Most of the Afghan populace believe Pakistan cannot be a friendly country to Afghanistan. Pakistan had provided a handful of aid to the post-US invasion of Afghanistan; however, Islamabad has not projected it in the way it needed to be done. India has given Afghanistan three billion dollars post-9/11 while Islamabad one billion dollars. The relationship between the two states’ leadership was not smooth, so that did not allow for broader cooperation in trade, security, and other fields.
Hence, a comprehensive strategy is needed to stop India from making its sway in Afghanistan under the Taliban. India has recently opened its embassy in Kabul and will gradually expand its work across the country by establishing a good working relationship with the Taliban, which will hamper Pakistan’s interest. Islamabad does not want a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan but one which at least does not allow the Afghan soil to be used against it.
About the author:
Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai is a Research Officer at SVI, Islamabad. He tweets as @YousafzaiZafar5.