The Afghanistan Conundrum and Pakistan

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The word of American [Western] forces leaving Afghanistan has spread with exhilarating velocity and the implications are being felt rapidly: Non-State insurgent forces on July 04th have taken down yet another important town—Kandahar—in the civil-war laden state of Afghanistan.

The question here is: What’s in store for the future of the infrastructurally, politically, and economically devasted state? The answer—which until recently was under limbo—is now as clear as day. It is the contending non-state actor The Taliban that came on top of the 20-year long war and, with this comes the underlying ramification of their being the ultimate masters of the fate of the state.

With that being in mind, one thinks of the grim future of Afghanistan—quite in line with one that it used to be: from 1996-2001. A state where female education was banned under the false premise of its being Non-Islamic. A state where gender-based discrimination of women—in realms such as working in the public sphere—echoed from every nook and corner of the Afghan social fabric. A state where music was banned and where men were required to shun shaving for good and observe five times prayer a day, otherwise they would face punishments the intensity of which would be determined by the local Taliban commander. All such social restrictions and the related phenomena unleashed by the Taliban rule reinforces the locals’ conviction that its revival is only a matter of months—now that their Western allies have abandoned what it calls a futile effort—if not years.

Acknowledging these genuine concerns, Pakistan is faced with a new and confounding problem, one pertaining as to what to call the potential new masters of Afghanistan: Friends of foes? In a recent briefing on July 1st to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security by the Armed Forces chief unequivocally labeled Afghan Taliban and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan as two sides of the same coin necessarily suggesting its change its foreign policy attitude towards the insurgent group marking a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s traditional “Strategic Depth” policy towards its battle-torn neighbor.

The question one needs to ask, then, is how come such a policy shift came about in the strategic thinking of Pakistan? The answer is open to subjectivity but the two negligible and pre-eminent factors, I think, are the Chinese BRI project­—mother project of the Pakistan-based CPEC—on the one hand, and, the continued FATF grey-listing of Pakistan on the other.

As of the former, Pakistan needs a politically, socially, and economically viable and stable state in Afghanistan to reinforce its commitment with China of a loyal long-lasting friendship. China, which has got ambitions transcending CPEC—the BRI—deep via Afghanistan connecting it to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, sees in Afghanistan the potential and capability of translating it into economic and infrastructural machines in a politically stable state. Of course, Pakistan is vital to this ambitious endeavor and China would naturally turn to Pakistan for extended help in this regard since Pakistan has—by default—enjoyed historical leverage over the vindicated insurgents with ex ISI chief General Hamid Gul referring to them as “Holy Warriors” and “Strategic Assets”.

On the flip side, Pakistan is still facing economic problems at home owing to lack of FDI and shortage of required exporting quota and, lack of international repute and global prestige problem, both converging on a single point: FATF and APG’s continual grey-listing of Pakistan in the face of the significant strides made by the accused state: 26 out of the total 27 points fulfilled and observed in letter and spirit.

All of the aforementioned dynamics point toward a renewed political and strategic orientation in the South Asian region. With America and the West losing interest in the region, Pakistan and China are going to be the key players in this maze with India toying to somehow incorporate Afghanistan into its political fold—seems more like a farce though—what we can only do is wait to see what unfolds in the near future for the pity Afghan state.

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