Pakistan’s past support for the Afghan Taliban isn’t paying off

When the Afghan Taliban returned to power in Kabul in August, Pakistanis celebrated. Among many others, Prime Minister Imran Khan clearly saw the Taliban’s victory as a triumph for his country.

For years, observers have accused Islamabad of covertly supporting the Taliban. And for years, Pakistan has rejected such allegations, invariably citing its role as a vital U.S. ally throughout the war on terrorism. Yet Khan himself effectively confirmed what the critics have been saying by openly supporting the Afghan Taliban when it seized power — even though doing so clearly violated the agreement that it had negotiated with the United States in talks in Doha, Qatar.

Khan’s government evidently expected that the Afghan Taliban would do two things in return for Islamabad’s support: surrender Afghan-based insurgents who are fighting inside Pakistan against the Pakistani military and settle a long-running border dispute

So far neither one is happening. And that explains why Pakistan still hasn’t offered diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government in Kabul.

The biggest stumbling block is the status of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the offshoot of the Afghan Taliban that continues to wage war on Pakistani forces. Pakistan has been trying to get the Afghan Taliban to cut off its support for the group. After the fall of Kabul, top Pakistani officials expressed a willingness to announce an amnesty for the TTP if it laid down its arms and agreed to abide by Pakistan’s constitution. In November, the TTP agreed to secret talks and declared a one-month cease-fire. When Islamabad started its new round of negotiations with the group, I wrote that this was the seventh time the Pakistani state had tried talking with the TTP. Islamabad’s previous six agreements with the group had come to nothing.

The TTP presented a difficult list of conditions. Its leaders demanded the release of a long list of prisoners; it’s not clear whether the Pakistani government ever delivered. The TTP also declared that it wanted to open a political office in a third country (which would amount to a form of recognition for an organization that is banned in Pakistan). Most problematic of all, TTP negotiators demanded the implementation of Islamic sharia law in Pakistan — which meant they were not ready to accept the current constitution, which is based on democratic principles. What the TTP was demanding, in short, was the self-abolition of the state — a surrender agreement, in effect.

Yet government ministers claimed that the TTP had agreed on a cease-fire. Opposition parties in Parliament demanded that the government reveal details about the talks. A panel of judges publicly grilled Khan over his policy.

On Dec. 10, the TTP ended its cease-fire and resumed attacks against Pakistani forces. The Pakistani military tried to target TTP leaders in Afghanistan with drones. The TTP retaliated by attacking police in Islamabad. They were sending a message that they were willing to wage guerrilla war in Pakistani cities. The government, which is hard-pressed on other security issues, decided to restart talks. But so far there are no results. Notably, the Afghan Taliban has shown no willingness to intervene on Pakistan’s behalf.

And what about the border? The new Afghan government has shown zero willingness to acknowledge Islamabad’s concerns. The Afghan Taliban has explicitly refused to accept the current border between the two countries, which was drawn by the British empire during colonial days, effectively dividing the Pashtun ethnic group in two. Taliban soldiers have even tried to stop Pakistani troops from putting up fencing along the border. The Afghan Taliban has announced plans to build 30 extra outposts to prevent the movement of Pakistani troops along the frontier.

In short, the Afghan Taliban is now behaving like great liberators who broke the shackles of foreign occupation without help from anyone else. The Afghan Taliban refuses to acknowledge Pakistan’s many years of tacit and not-so-tacit support for the group’s fight. If Pakistani leaders were expecting some sign of gratitude, they’re still waiting.

The bottom line is that the Afghan Taliban doesn’t trust Pakistan. Both have played double games with each other in the past. Now the Taliban is opening channels with India and Iran. It wants official diplomatic recognition for its new state, and it wants other countries to unfreeze Afghan funds that are held in foreign banks — but it also doesn’t want to meet the international community’s conditions. It recently had a golden opportunity to earn some goodwill with the international community when it met with Western officials in Oslo for three days last month. But the Taliban blew it. It denied involvement in the disappearance of some female activists — whose families persuasively blame the Taliban. The Taliban government in Kabul will have little hope of bolstering its relations with the West until it changes course.

But the Taliban isn’t listening to anyone — including Pakistan, which has annoyed many friendly countries by blindly supporting the Taliban over the years. On Sunday, the TTP killed five Pakistani soldiers — and openly accepted responsibility. Pakistanis’ patience is running thin. The question is how long Islamabad can go on ignoring reality.

09 Feb 22/Wednesday                                                                         Source: washingtonpost

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