October 10, 2022
ISLAMABAD – THE regime in Afghanistan may have inked a few economic and trade agreements with its neighbours, but it has yet to secure formal recognition for its government from any side. The Taliban clearly understand why the international community remains reluctant to recognise them, yet their top administration insists on internal and external legitimacy on its own terms.
As its frustration grows, Pakistan has become the primary focus of the Taliban’s growing anger, and they have started to openly criticise the country. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif warned the international community at the United Nations General Assembly a few weeks ago about the presence and activities of foreign extremist organisations in Afghanistan, including those that have been targeting Pakistan. Interestingly, many other Muslim countries expressed concerns similar to those the Pakistani prime minister put forth. For instance, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan called for cooperation among all countries to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a centre for the growth of terrorism.
Yet the Taliban regime displayed a strong reaction to PM Sharif’s speech. Amidst an outpouring of reaction from different Taliban officials, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Abbas Stanekzai issued an extremely sullen statement accusing Pakistan of feeding off the Afghan conflict for economic gain. The most dangerous part of Stanekzai’s statement was that the Taliban have proof of Pakistan’s manipulative role in Afghanistan, and his saying that “If we rise against this, no one will be able to stop us”, can be interpreted as a threat that they have thought about responding at an appropriate time.
The Taliban believe that the charges against them are unfair as they are trying hard to grapple with the threat posed by Islamic State-Khorasan in their country. They want international acknowledgement for their efforts against the group. However, apart from their initial claims soon after taking over that they would eliminate the IS-K within weeks, their ideological rival has been gradually getting deeper under their skin. More than 16 diplomatic missions have started to function in Kabul since the Taliban takeover. The IS-K wants to discredit the Taliban’s claim that they can provide them with security. The IS-K attack against the Russian diplomatic mission in Kabul can be seen from that perspective.
Pakistan has become the primary focus of the Taliban’s growing anger.
On the other hand, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is making it hard for the Taliban to win international support. The resurgence of the TTP means that Al Qaeda and groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan can also gain ground there, which is concerning for China and the Central Asian states.
The Taliban regime has managed to secure a few trade and economic assistance deals with China, Uzbekistan, Russia, UAE, Qatar, Turkey, Iran and several others apart from Pakistan, as well as the unfreezing of their assets by the US. However, the Taliban know this is insufficient to run the country’s affairs, and trade alone cannot be a substitute for formal government-to-government relationships.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statement at the UN General Assembly when he held that Afghanistan was moving from chaos to order and urged the world to help Afghanistan in this critical transition should have boosted the Taliban’s morale. Similar statements had come from Russia and other neighbours, but the Taliban believe that Pakistan stands with the US and the West at this crucial juncture.
While the Taliban regime’s bitterness towards Pakistan is increasingly impacting bilateral ties, its frustration is also revealing and dilating the rifts among different Taliban factions. The international community and human rights watchdogs have been closely monitoring the situation. To them, girls’ education is an issue of extreme importance. Some Taliban leaders, including Stanekzai, disagree with the Taliban elders’ approach of depriving girls of an education.
Recently, Stanekzai criticised his elders in a public meeting and declared that banning girls’ education is against Islamic injunctions and an abuse of the fundamental rights of the Afghan people. He said that getting an education is an equal duty for both men and women and that all the religious leaders of Afghanistan and the Muslim ummah agree on this essential duty. After his comments, there were reports that he may be relieved of his official responsibilities. However, that would not be an easy task, as he has support from the Taliban rank and file.
There is a common fault in the approaches of the Taliban and the security institutions in Pakistan. Both neither like inclusivity, nor can they manage it. It had been pointed out long ago that Pakistan should diversify its relationship with the Afghan people and that putting all its eggs in the Taliban basket could prove harmful. The proposal was given a half-hearted chance a few months before the Taliban takeover when the Afghan political leadership was invited to Islamabad for a dialogue over an inclusive government in Afghanistan. It was a late attempt and only triggered further bitterness against Pakistan among the Taliban.
The Taliban leadership, especially Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada and his close aides, have a similar mindset. They are not ready to compromise on their orthodox approach to governance and political settlements. They remain obsessed with their ideological doctrines and are rigid towards the diverse political, social, ethnic and religious views and classes they have to now cater to. The outcome of such approaches, as can be imagined, is a foolproof recipe for failure.
Pakistan has not achieved much in return for its support to the Taliban, especially concerning its key interests, such as border security, elimination of terrorist networks and trade and connectivity with the Central Asian states. Yet, the architects of Afghan policy in Islamabad have not entirely given up hope and still believe that once the Taliban regime overcomes its immediate economic and humanitarian crises, it will prove to be Pakistan’s best ally. The foundations of such claims are dubious, and if there is some supporting evidence, it should be brought into the public realm, especially in parliament.
The writer is a security analyst.