Suggested Title The Lost Cause of Preventive Diplomacy in Pak-Afghan Affairs

The start of 2023 for Pakistan on the diplomatic front is not good. Pakistan and Afghanistan came face to face because of the upsurge of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. However, further Pakistan-Afghanistan diplomatic strain developed due to the statement of Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rana Sanaullah. The minister spoke of Pakistan’s possible attacks inside Afghanistan to target Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) hideouts in response to the recent terrorist onslaught in Pakistan. Afghanistan has responded by taking the statements as provocative in nature. This scenario presents Pakistan’s lousy state of foreign policy and diplomatic affairs. Pakistan is under so much duress because of political and economic instability that has lingered for the past year. The interior minister’s statement over the private TV talk show reflects irresponsible behaviour over the discharge of duties. If there were to be an announcement of a proper strategy to counter a recent surge in terrorist attacks in Pakistan after the National Security Committee (NSC) meeting on 30 December 2022, then the ministry of defence would have to be there to execute it.

The action on the interior minister’s part identifies an institutional crisis where there is a lack of coordination and preparedness on the political front regarding having a calculated response to critical issues like relations with regional and other countries in the world. This has unnecessarily opened a new front for the government to deal with in the already unstable domestic political environment. On the other hand, it is relevant to consider Pakistan’s consistently bad security situation after a deadlock between Islamabad and TTP. The number of militant attacks climbed by 44 per cent in December compared to November 2022, according to data released by an independent think tank in Islamabad. The militants carried out 49 strikes in December 2022, which resulted in the deaths of 56 individuals, including 32 members of the security services and 17 civilians. 81 other people were hurt in these attacks, including 50 civilians and 31 members of the security forces. Per the research, December 2022 saw the most militant attacks in a single month. According to the above-mentioned report, December 2022 witnessed a 28 per cent increase in terror incidents over 2021, which was also the highest year for attacks in the past five years.

The reckless statements will push Pakistan into an unnecessary crisis with the neighbouring countries, which may create a bad impression of Pakistan.

This data reveals that despite the “war against terror” and major operations conducted against the terrorist organisation in Pakistan, they are still powerful enough to threaten the security matrix of Pakistan. This situation points to an important question in time to overhaul all those previous years in terms of money and time that the US has taken the world after terrorists in frontiers of Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, after the US withdrawal in 2021, Pakistan was left alone to deal with them. In addition to that, there is no stable government in Kabul. So retrospectively, the current situation that Pakistan is dealing with has to be dealt with at the turn of 180 degrees by relying on the bargaining strategies with TTP.

However, the response by Kabul over the accusations was firmer and clearer. The Afghan government held Pakistan accountable for the terrorist hideouts. The accusation levelled by the interior minister was that Kabul was not doing enough to curb the actions of the insurgent TTP group. The Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan turned Islamabad into harming bilateral relations. On the other hand, the TTP’s hideouts are located inside Pakistan, not Afghanistan, according to a statement from the Taliban’s defence ministry in Kabul on 1 January 2023. It was stated that any concerns may be “addressed through understanding” and that “such claims by Pakistani officials hurt relations.” Without particularly mentioning Afghanistan, Pakistani leaders said on 2 January 2023 that no country would be permitted to hide extremists who carry out strikes within the country, continuing the verbal battle.

The NSC of Pakistan declared there would be “zero tolerance for terrorism in Pakistan” and promised to use “the full might of the state” to combat extremists. No nation has formally recognised the Taliban-led Afghan government, which assumed power in the middle of 2021 after the US-led withdrawal of foreign forces and the fall of the UN-backed government.

Pakistan is standing at a critical juncture in its history, where political and economic crises have gripped the country so badly that the Pakistani state has become the victim of acute polarisation. In the backdrop of such a situation, Pakistani cabinet members of the coalition government should avoid making statements that may lead to a crisis like the one with Afghanistan. The reckless statements will push Pakistan into an unnecessary crisis with the neighbouring countries, which may create a bad impression of Pakistan. It will lead to a point where other regional countries can turn against Pakistan in order to save Afghanistan. In order to solve the situation from the root, it is important for Pakistan to go for preventive diplomacy first in order to avert such a situation from happening in the future. After that, regional consensus between affected countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan must be attained before any operation against terrorists can be conducted.

Tauseef Javed

Tauseef Javed works at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) as a Research Associate. He is currently enrolled as a doctoral student at Fujian Normal University in Fuzhou, China. His research focuses on international relations, history, and area studies from an interdisciplinary perspective.

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