Chaos across the Durand Line

What is the way forward to reassure the US and its allies who accuse Pakistan of supporting the Taliban?

Chaos across the Durand Line

The journey that started with the signing of a joint resolution authorising the use of force against actors, aiders, and abettors of the 9/11 attacks is expected to come to an end as global powers withdraw their forces by the end of August. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that President Biden has acknowledged the difficulty of getting out troops from Afghanistan and said that his administration may extend the August 31 deadline.

Further, the Pentagon has enlisted the help of several US airlines to evacuate Americans and their partners from the Afghan soil. As discussion is going on regarding the extension of the deadline for withdrawal of troops. Kabul has fallen to the Taliban, who now, after 20 years of war with United States and allied forces, have announced themselves victorious and new rulers of Afghanistan.

The Taliban are considered the main threat to the world peace. Additionally, considering their links with Al Qaeda, the United Nations Security Council has through Resolution 1267 imposed sanctions on both organisations. This resolution requires freezing of assets, a travel ban, an arms embargo and defining the actions and activities that need to be sanctioned, such as participating in financing and planning, including facilitation, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities.

The 9/11 attack on the US was the triggering event that led to the US operations in Afghanistan, undertaken to eliminate those involved in this brutality. In this war on terror, NATO forces participated along with the US. Pakistan joined the war as a non-NATO ally. Shortly after the US operation, which started in October 2001, the Taliban government collapsed, and an interim government was formed to run the affairs of Afghanistan.

The main battle was the presidential elections which took place in 2004. Hamid Karzai then assumed office as president. He completed two consecutive terms before the mace was handed over to President Ashraf Ghani in 2014 who continued to be the president till the fall of Kabul.

During this time, the US and allied forced conducted many airstrikes and ground operations against the Taliban. US drones were used to attack targets, including leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Obama’s commitment to dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda and the eventual killing of Osama bin Laden was considered the last nail in the coffin for both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in close vicinity of important military sites adversely impacted Pakistan’s image in the West.

Ben Laden’s death was considered a big achievement for the US. Pakistan too lauded it. However, the presence of the world’s most wanted terrorist in Pakistan also created trust issues between Pakistan and the United States and since President Obama’s second term Pakistan has had difficulty in mending its relations with the US.

During the War on Terror Pakistan was always acknowledged as an important player in matters related to Afghanistan but in the recent Afghan peace talks, subsequent withdrawal of US troops and finally handing over of power back to the Taliban, Pakistan was ignored. Apparently, the foreign ministry and agencies were not cognizant of the evolving situations and had not been taken into confidence by international powers.

Even the prime minister was not sure till the last day about the power transfer formula and remained unaware of the final arrangements between the US and the Taliban. He was apparently expecting that the US will request for airbases to complete its evacuation plan, so that in reply to a question posed by the anchor in Axios on HBO about the provision of such bases, he said Pakistan would “absolutely not” allow the CIA to use bases on its soil for cross-border counter-terrorism missions after US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Later, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on National Security and Strategic Policy Planning Moeed Yousaf stated that no US official or lawmaker had asked for a military base in Pakistan. The sheer disconnect reflects confusion in Pakistan’s establishment vis-à-vis the Afghan situation. We are not aware of the nature of the future set-up in Afghanistan though it seems that some in the corridors of power are happy about the return of the Taliban despite their ignorance about the future of Afghanistan.

Amid these developments, the relationship with the US is deteriorating further. Our foreign policy has failed to produce the desired results and gauge the sensitivity of the situation. The Wall Street Journal editorial, A Reckoning for Pakistan, published on August 16, highlighted the reasons for the collapse of Afghan security forces. “American strategists will be studying for some time how Afghanistan’s US-trained security forces crumbled so quickly before what appeared to be an inferior Taliban militia. One place they should look for answers is Pakistan, whose leader openly “cheered the Taliban’s takeover of its northwestern neighbour.”

The question arises, how will Pakistan justify its position? What is the way forward to reassure the US and its allies that accuse Pakistan of supporting the Taliban? What role is our foreign ministry playing since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul? What will be the new basis for our relationship with the US? Will the US ignore the opinions of its think tanks and its people? Will the US continue to treat us as friends? These questions will be answered over the next few months.

Other than Afghanistan, Pakistan is struggling to address the concerns of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In the last meeting, Pakistan was given an additional six-point agenda to implement by June 2022. This plan requires international cooperation and implementation of United Nations’ Resolution 1373. It also demands addressing risks associated with designated non-financial businesses and professions (DNFBPs) and applying sanctions against them. The most important point, which can be used against us in future, is the monitoring of the DNFBPs concerning proliferation financing (PF) and implementation of sanctions in that regard.

The new guidelines on proliferation financing risk assessment and mitigation require a risk-based approach to address threats, vulnerabilities and consequences. The role Pakistan is apparently aspiring to play in Afghanistan and its tilt towards the Taliban are in sheer conflict with the FATF agenda.

Given the global concerns reported in various publications regarding support of the Taliban and provision of arms, Pakistan needs to improve its image by implementing the action plan items related to the PF and perform national risk assessments addressing concerns raised in the Mutual Evaluation Report 2019. The role of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is important in educating the financial institutions related to PF risks so that they can identify potential risks in the products and services they offer to their customers.

The guidelines issued by the SBP regarding countering PF risks are incomplete and need revision in the light of FATF guidelines on this issue. Financial institutions need to be vigilant about PF risks when dealing with transactions related to trade finance and correspondent banking.

Due to our relations with governments in Afghanistan and with the Taliban leadership in the past, some circles among the Taliban and the Afghan political leadership do not trust Pakistan. We have witnessed this in the cold behaviour during the Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani governments. Most of the players currently negotiating a power-sharing formula with the Taliban have an antagonistic approach towards Pakistan.

We have been shifting posts and partners after every regime change. Ideally, Pakistan should focus on addressing its own challenges, internal and external, and show restraint against the temptation to interfere in the internal politics of Afghanistan.

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr Ikramul Haq, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are adjunct faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members of the Advisory Board and visiting senior fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in white collar crimes and sanctions compliance. They have recently coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions

Chaos across the Durand Line