Global Affairs Desk

Tue Jun 18 2024

The US in Afghanistan- Understanding the Pakistani Angle in the Sitaution

~ By Aarush Joshi on 12/30/2023

The US in Afghanistan- Understanding the Pakistani Angle in the Sitaution

The Taliban are a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group, comprised of Pashtun tribesmen. The group controlled most of Afghanistan from 1996-2001, before returning back to power in 2021 after a hasty US withdrawal from the region. In October 2001, the US-led allied forces ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, following the bombings of September 11 in the USA, and the refusal to hand over terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Following the US-led
invasion, the Taliban moved and concentrated itself to Southern Afghanistan, and across the border to Pakistan, from where they waged an insurgency against the government backed by the West in Kabul.

When the US-led coalition formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces were in charge of Afghanistan’s security. However, the Taliban continued its attacks in rural districts and carried out suicide attacks in major cities of Afghanistan, inflicting serious casualties on the Afghan national army. The war remained a stalemate for nearly 6 years, despite a small US troop increase in 2017,
And continuing combat missions. However, the Taliban achieved marginal success when they seized the capital of the Farah province in May 2018 and later, in August 2018, it captured the capital of Ghazni province, holding the city for nearly a week before the US and Afghan troops regained control.

In February 2020, after more than a year of direct negotiations, the US and the Taliban inked the Doha Peace Accords after several rounds of negotiations, which set the timeline for the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. Under the agreement, the US pledged to draw down a significant 8,500 troops from Afghanistan in a span of 135 days and complete a full withdrawal within fourteen months. In return, the Taliban pledged to prevent its territory from being used by terrorist entities and to enter negotiations with the Afghan government. Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban began months after the scheduled date of March 2020. However, the negotiations faced multiple delays and made little progress. Violence all across Afghanistan continued unabated and at an unprecedented rate in 2020 and 2021 as the United States increased airstrikes and raids targeting the Taliban. In return, the Taliban attacked the Afghan government and ANDSF targets and made significant territorial gains.

The summer of 2021 saw a continuation of the strikes and offences by the Taliban, threatening government-controlled urban areas and seizing several border crossings. In early August, the Taliban began direct assaults on multiple provincial areas, such as Kandahar and Herat. On 15 August 2021, over two weeks before the official deadline set by the US for the withdrawal, the Taliban marched into the capital. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani subsequently fled the country and the government collapsed. Later, the same day, the Taliban announced they had entered the presidential palace and taken control of Kabul, establishing checkpoints to maintain security. As the world saw the Taliban march over Kabul and expressed its concerns regarding the future of the country, spiralling into larger connotations for the region, it is useful to shed light on the implications of the fall of Kabul for its immediate neighbour, Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Challenges vis-a-vis the fall of Kabul

The fall of Kabul to the hands of the Taliban will be a lot different in its implications and undercurrents for Pakistan, as compared to the consequences it had when the Taliban first marched into Kabul in 1996. Previously, Pakistan had also aided the Mujahideen in fighting the Soviet occupation during the first invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, with active support being lent by the USA. Since the creation of the Taliban was aided and supported actively by
Pakistan’s deep state, a common misconception that embraced many was that the Sunni fundamentalist group would heed the words of Islamabad and Rawalpindi in creating more chaos in the region. What failed to embrace the thinking of many was the many shortcomings in a Taliban-led Kabul’s orientation towards an unstable Pakistan now. An unstable nation invites problems and complications from all the fronts. Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan presents Pakistan with a looming question mark about the country’s geographical sovereignty. Pakistan’s geographic location invites two fundamental problems from a Taliban-led Kabul. The first has its roots in history, dating back to 1893. The issue that presents itself on the table of Afghanistan-Pakistan relations pertains to the Durand Line. The Taliban considers the whole of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to be part of Greater Afghanistan, and the history of this Durand Line goes well back to the late 1800s. The Durand Line forms the de-facto border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a 2670-kilometre-long international border and was established as the international border
between British India and the Emirate of Afghanistan by Mortimer Durand, a British diplomat of the Indian Civil Service and Abdur Rahman Khan, the Afghan Emir to demarcate their respective spheres of influence.

According to the Durand Line agreement, Afghanistan relinquished a few territories including Swat, Chitral and Chageh, although it gained areas such as Nuristan and Asmar. The agreement, for the first time, demarcated where the Indo-Afghan border started and ended. Before the Durand Line agreement, both India and Afghanistan would make incursions into each other’s domain of influence, frequently sparking border tensions. In contrast to many historical accounts, Afghanistan did recognise the Durand Line as an international border. Abdur Rahman Khan’s successor, Amir Habibullah Khan, in 1905 signed a new agreement with Britain confirming the legality of the Durand Line. More importantly, article 5 of the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919, based on which Afghanistan reclaimed its independence, says that Afghanistan accepted all previous border arrangements with India.

After the formation of Pakistan in 1947, Afghanistan demanded that Pashtuns living on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line be given the right to self-determination. Unsurprisingly, both Britain and Pakistan refused. In response, the Afghan government then began to ignore the Durand Line and instead assert claims over territories that lay between the line and the Indus River. A Kabul-led Taliban would, to bluntly put it, increase the number of blasts in
Pakistan. Its ally, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan would play a significant role in these atrocities which are to happen in Pakistan. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Afghan-Taliban are just extensions of each other. In the eyes of Islamabad, the TTP and the Afghan-Taliban are each bad Taliban and good Taliban respectively. Attacks in various parts of Pakistan have been going on. Several Pakistan army men have been killed and a
A large number of attacks have already taken place in Pakistan.

Another issue is the inflow of drugs into Pakistan. Since the Afghan economy is driven by Opium production, the country will find ways to export Opium to other parts of the world. Since Afghanistan is a landlocked country, Opium produced in the region finds no other place but Gwadar, which is the closest port to Afghanistan. The presence of ports in Gwadar and Karachi provides a means for the inflow of Opium into Afghanistan.

A keen observer of geopolitics would conclude that the establishment of the Taliban would bring more worries to the Pakistani establishment rather than ease their initiatives of bringing disarray to the region.

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