The high profile Kabul visit by DG ISI represents public ownership by Pakistani security state of the Taliban’s invasion of Afghanistan. This high profile gesture can, apart from provoking other regional players for taking counter measures can also rekindle memories about Pakistan’s role in promoting extremist militancy
That may be true as Taliban, far from being a monolith, have many regional, ethnic and social divisions which are becoming more visible as they grapple with the question of wielding power. In recent days Taliban and their Pakistani handlers have been talking about an “inclusive government” a term useful for reducing the anxieties of the international community about the rule of a militia that has followed the path of brute military force to power without resorting to even a pretence of political popularity. But as they say the devil lies in the details of the “inclusive government”. Taliban would like to include some junior leaders from the north of Afghanistan (preferably the ones who had not played prominent role in the previous government) as a token for inclusivity. But Pakistan is hosting a group of Afghan leaders of Tajik ethnic origin since mid August who insist on power sharing formula with Taliban.
Most probably General Faiz Hamid was in Kabul for asking Taliban to show some flexibility to the demands of the aforementioned group. Be that as it may, the high profile Kabul visit by DG ISI represents public ownership by Pakistani security state of the Taliban’s invasion of Afghanistan. This high profile gesture can, apart from provoking other regional players for taking counter measures can also rekindle memories about Pakistan’s role in promoting extremist militancy. It cannot but solidify the neologism of AfPak that emerged in US policy circles in early 2008 for describing Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single theatre of operations during the war on terror.
Richard Holbrook, one year before becoming US Special Envoy for AfPak explained the term in following words in March 2008, “ First of all we call the problem AfPak, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is not just an effort to save eight syllables. It is an attempt to indicate and imprint in our DNA the fact that there is one theatre of war, straddling on ill defined border, the Durand Line, and that on the western side of that border, NATO and other forces are able to operate. On the eastern side, it is the sovereign territory of Pakistan. But it is on the eastern side of this ill defined border that the international terrorist movement is located.” In 2010 the US official circles stopped using this neologism after Pakistani criticism against it, calling it as an effort at relegating its diplomatic stature and tarnishing its image.
Taliban have other serious ideological and political limitations when it comes the formation of an inclusive government. They don’t believe in modern state system and in their Islamic Emirate the boundaries between the state and the Taliban militia are not clear
However, Pakistan’s objection might not have been the only factor for dissuading the US from using the AfPak after 2010. It was probably the emergence of China as the most important economic competitor on global level after the unsettling recession faced by western capitalism in 2008 that changed the US threat perception. The Chinese Belt and Road vision followed soon after. In the context of these developments China (or the Communist Party of China as the official US official line goes) came up as top most threat to the US national interests relegating all other threats. This is where the US is supposed to have revisited its Afghan policy.
According to the revised paradigm injecting Taliban’s theocracy in the Afghan system has the potential to attract the Muslim populations in Xinjiang and Central Asia. The resulting Talibanization can create problems for China, Russia and Iran. But for Pakistan it is a catch 22 situation. It has long term commitments with China over China Pakistan Economic Corridor ( CPEC) in which Chinese have already invested huge amounts of money. Going by the reports published in official Chinese media, it is eagerly looking forward to Taliban controlled Afghanistan joining the CPEC.
China is definitely banking on Pakistani influence over the Taliban. But then how would the US react to such a development? Wouldn’t it revive the geopolitics of AfPak? After all Taliban haven’t fully abided by the Doha deal with the US by not cutting off its relations with Al-Qaeda and other members of international terror syndicate and it wouldn’t be much difficult for the US to make out a case if it needs to do so.
But Taliban have other serious ideological and political limitations when it comes the formation of an inclusive government. They don’t believe in modern state system and in their Islamic Emirate the boundaries between the state and the Taliban militia are not clear. Their expressions and actions of the last three weeks as de facto leaders reveal that they are still wedded to their totalitarian ideology that excludes pluralism in all its forms and hues, their pious noises to the contrary notwithstanding.
Taliban are rigidly sticking to their medieval constraints on social mobility of women giving rise to women protest in Kabul, Herat and Jalalabad despite Taliban’s brutal physical repression. Panjsher province in the north east of Kabul has once again emerged as the main resistance centre to Taliban’s control over Afghanistan. Under the leadership of Commander Ahmad Shah Masood, the most well known leader of anti Taliban struggle of 1990s, Panjshair has a rich history and symbolism of anti Taliban resistance.
Banking on that tradition Ahmad Masood, the young son of Ahmad Shah Masood and Mr. Amrullah Salih, the first Vice President in the previous government have put up a courageous fight to Taliban so far. Their strength lies not in numbers but in the wider national nature of their demands. Even if Taliban with their large numbers and huge resources dislodge the resistance leader from Bazarak, the main town of Panjshair, it wouldn’t be the end to resistance as it would move to the higher and more inaccessible passes of Hindukush.
* Afrasiab Khattak is a former Senator and analyst of regional affairs.