Pakistan’s glee is in a stable and peaceful Afghanistan

Ever since the Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15, commentators worldwide have written and spoken abundantly on the surprising developments in Afghanistan. They continue to do so as the situation is evolving rapidly.

The amount of literature being produced on Afghanistan is overwhelming, and most of this scholarship is published by Western/extra-regional media outlets, experts, and think tanks.

A careful analysis of the contemporary literature on Afghanistan indicates that after years of occupation of the country, these commentators are now trying to vindicate the invading forces – United States (US) and its allies – by propelling a narrative which declares Afghanistan to be the region’s problem, besides shifting the blame of the current situation on neighbouring states and the people of Afghanistan.

Mr. Hugh Tomlinson recently authored such an article for The Times titled, “Pakistan’s glee at the Taliban takeover may be short-lived.” However, after thoroughly examining the article, it was clear that the author is either “standing too close to the Elephant” or standing way too far from it.

The article is replete with analytical fallacies and self-defeating statements, which indicate that the author was clearly towing a specific agenda, while abandoning some fundamental rules of journalism, detailed research, and objectivity/neutrality. Nevertheless, the record should be set straight.

First of all, the title of Mr. Tomlinson’s piece is inappropriate. Contrary to his impression, the “glee” in Pakistan that he refers to, actually belongs to a small and unpopular segment and not the majority.

Mr. Hugh Tomlinson recently authored such an article for The Times titled, “Pakistan’s glee at the Taliban takeover may be short-lived.” However, after thoroughly examining the article, it was clear that the author is either “standing too close to the Elephant” or standing way too far from it.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s words were also taken out of context in the article. When PM Khan stated that Afghanistan had “broken the shackles of slavery,” he clearly meant from the tyranny of a corrupt, incompetent, and oppressive government of Ashraf Ghani. He meant that the people of Afghanistan now have the chance to make a fresh start and embark on a new beginning as per their aspirations.

Furthermore, Mr. Tomlinson should note that the visits of foreign officials to Pakistan, such as recent visits by European officials, were only for their own interests. They wanted to ensure the safe transit of their citizens from Afghanistan facilitated by Pakistan. This facilitation was possible not because of Pakistan’s alleged “covert” support to the Taliban but due to the geographic and demographic realities of the region and the historical, linguistic, and cultural complementarities between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The “glee” in Pakistan over the unease of its arch-rival India due to the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan, as alleged by Tomlinson, is justified. As evident from several dossiers and facts presented by Pakistan to the world, including the international bodies like the United Nations (UN), India was using the Afghan soil to create unrest and instability in Pakistan. With the ouster of the Ghani government, such Indian efforts will finally seize to exist, and it is a matter of jubilation for Pakistan.

Tomlinson’s speculations about a grand Pakistan-Afghanistan-China alliance to heap pressure on India regarding Kashmir are completely unfounded and illogical. Even with India, Pakistan has made multiple attempts to initiate dialogue to resolve issues. It is India that carried out transgressions and violations to deteriorate the bilateral relations, and created a stalemate through acts like February 26 and August 05, 2019, to name a few.

It was stated in the article that Pakistan pocketed billions of dollars in US military aid since 2001. It is important to remind Tomlinson that there is a huge disproportion between the military and economic assistance provided by the US and the economic losses Pakistan had to face due to the War on Terror (WoT). This difference is so profound that it reduces the US’ assistance to peanuts.

In fact, it has always been the US that double deals with Pakistan. The US deliberately maintained a transactional relationship with Pakistan where it could seem friendly when the situation called for it – be it in the 1950s, 1980s, 1990s, or post 9/11. And when the interests are served, the US tends to abandon the relationship, just like it has done now.

President Biden’s cold shoulder toward Pakistan speaks volumes about his political short-sightedness and inability to deal with issues amicably. Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Dr. Moeed Yusuf clearly stated that nobody in Pakistan is losing their sleep over President Biden’s call. He will call when he needs to.

Pakistan has been the most proactive neighbour working for Afghanistan’s stability. It has been a part of and facilitated every framework that was initiated to resolve the Afghan conundrum, be it Doha Talks, Moscow Format, Extend Troika or G4 Talks.

Coming to the Taliban, Tomlinson should not forget that the US contributed to its creation. With the US’ implicit support, their government was recognised during mid-1990s. And let’s not forget, it was the US that entered into a dialogue with the group in Doha to reach a settlement for its “exit” from Afghanistan and ignored the Ghani government.

Perhaps the Taliban has changed. Only time will tell if it is for better or for worse. But the group has certainly learned from its mistakes. The group’s successful engagement with regional countries and other Afghan stakeholders proves the Taliban’s evolution as an organisation.

There should be no confusion that Pakistan did not promise anything to the Taliban or anyone else. It has assured to regard full support to an Afghan-owned and an Afghan-led peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. Pakistan from the very onset of the conflict, has been advocating for a peaceful political settlement. The Pakistani civilian and military leadership have been stating in unison that Pakistan supports the intra-Afghan dialogue, which can further lead to an inclusive government in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani leadership has met its words with action as well. All Afghan parties and stakeholders – even members of the Ghani government – are being approached by Pakistan in an attempt to build an inclusive consensus on the future of Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Foreign Minister has been making regular trips to regional capitals to develop a unified regional approach for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan post-foreign troops’ withdrawal. Furthermore, the Pakistani Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Ambassador in Kabul have been meeting regularly with all the Afghan factions and leaders to convince them for the intra-Afghan dialogue and to avoid further bloodshed and infighting.

Pakistan has been the most proactive neighbour working for Afghanistan’s stability. It has been a part of and facilitated every framework that was initiated to resolve the Afghan conundrum, be it Doha Talks, Moscow Format, Extend Troika or G4 Talks.

The chances of a regional peaceful settlement in Afghanistan are high. Seeing the success of a regional approach, the Western countries will eventually engage with Afghanistan, signs of which are already showing with statements coming out of Britain and Italy.

The US’ unceremonious exit from Afghanistan is its own doing. Pakistan and other regional states warned the US against a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and leaving a large power vacuum in the war-torn country.

Freezing aid to Pakistan and using different strategies to “punish” demonstrates the hypocrisy, confusion, and paradox in the US policy and practice. The Pakistani leadership has stated repeatedly that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is vital for a peaceful and stable Pakistan.

Rather than playing the spoiler’s part in Afghanistan, the US should support the efforts of Pakistan and other regional countries in establishing a stable Afghanistan, as it is the only way to atone for what it did in Afghanistan. However, shifting the blame onto others would never absolve the US of its mistakes.

Taimur Fahad Khan

Taimur Khan is working as a Research Associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). His research focuses on non-traditional security issues and foreign policy analysis.

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