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Friday May 24, 2024

Diplomatic recognition still eludes Afghan Taliban

By Jan Achakzai
September 05, 2022

The Taliban continue to elude international recognition as they just marked the first anniversary of taking over Kabul after the withdrawal of US-led forces.

With Pakistan facing triple challenges of a) severe floods, b) political bickering and c) economic revival, a peep through the Afghan window is warranted. At first glance, the Taliban suffer from lack of cohesion, particularly among the top leadership. The fracture is wide and deep: By and large, four major factions within their ranks are a reality. This is why they backed out on a commitment to women’s freedoms and girls’ education.

On the other hand, twin challenges they face include ISIS-K and increasing insurgency in the north. Though it is not clear how big and small the insurgency is. Yet Taliban send now and then new officials to control Panjshir Valley. Their response to the killing of Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was low-key because largely they are guilty of mis-commitments provided in the Doha Agreement. The internal rifts are making governance even more difficult: poverty, unemployment and destitution are a few examples as a by-product.

The Taliban are, nevertheless, indirectly putting pressure on Pakistan using two levers. For example, they are warming to India and still hosting TTP fighters. Of late, the Taliban’s Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoob issued a blanket but contradictory statement against Pakistan. He said the drones (the US uses) may come through Pakistan’s air space. Yet, he admitted that the Taliban have no radar system to detect flying objects in Afghan space. Mullah Yaqoob has, by and large, consistently adopted an anti-Pakistan stance. Most probably, he wants to appeal to the ethnic constituency in Afghanistan, particularly in the south and southwest. Here his core influence exists among the Pashtuns.

The Pakistani Foreign Office strongly rejected Mullah Yaqoob’s assertion against Islamabad saying the Taliban should fulfil their commitment to remove foreign terrorists on the Afghan soil instead of hurling such allegations.

Paradoxically, the Afghan Taliban are tolerating the TTP safe havens on its soil, on one hand. As an easy option, they are trying to broker peace talks between the TTP and Pakistan, on the other hand.

However, talks may ultimately collapse. First, people of the former FATA region have serious reservations against the rehabilitation of the TTP fighters and giving any concessions as a result of the talks.

Second, the Army may not reconcile with the major chunk of the TTP core as they cannot forget soldiers and ordinary people martyred by the TTP. And third, the state of Pakistan cannot reverse FATA reforms under the 25th Amendment which is one of the main demands of the TTP.

The big picture suggests talks with TTP at this stage are being conducted from a position of weakness. They are not convincingly defeated kinetically. Given the military maxim that one cannot kill till the last soldier of the insurgency, we have not reached this so far in dealing with the TTP militancy.

There is a possibility that a small number of TTP fighters, who want to go back to villages, may surrender. However, the overall success of the talks is unlikely. “So small is a window for the success of talks with the TPP,” said a Western diplomat observing the region’s development.

Pakistan is back into the US geo-political orbit as CT worries have re-entered the US calculus. Recently CENTCOM Chief Michael Erik Kurilla met Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa. “Matters of mutual interest, regional security situation and stability, defence and security cooperation, particularly military to military ties, were discussed during the meeting,” according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

The Army Chief is also believed to be undertaking an important visit to the US probably this month where he will likely meet various stakeholders of the Biden Administration.

These developments are taking place in the backdrop of the Afghan Taliban’s reluctance in removing foreign elements on Afghan soil, fulfilling their pledges to the international community on women’s rights and the recent incident of Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s killing right under the Taliban noose in Kabul.

Unfortunately, the nightmare option for Islamabad is still hot pursuit ultimately if the Afghan Taliban continue to sustain the TTP leverage against Pakistan. For Islamabad, this fear is substantiated by the fact that the TTP is a threat to peace and stability in the country and beyond. Whereas, the Taliban’s quest to seek international approval would lead-up to cul-de-sac.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst and a politician from Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai)