Strategic conundrum

November 14, 2021

As Pakistan seeks stability in Afghanistan by calling on other international players, it faces tough calls at home

Strategic conundrum

Pakistan has now hosted the Troika Plus conference in continuation of its efforts to facilitate Afghanistan. Taliban’s new foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and other representatives were in Islamabad to meet the group to discuss impending issues faced by his country.

A country’s foreign policy consists of strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and achieve its goals through relations with other countries. Pakistan has it no different.

In recent times, due to globalisation and transnational activities, states also have to interact with some non-state actors. Since national interest is paramount, foreign policy design involves high-level decision making. In cooperating with the Afghan Taliban and helping them overcome their diplomatic problems, Pakistan is looking to secure its backyard.

Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote in his Washington Post article, “If we do this right, we could achieve what the Doha peace process aimed at all along with an Afghanistan that is no longer a threat to the world, where Afghans can finally dream of peace after four decades of conflict. The alternative — abandoning Afghanistan — has been tried before. As in the 1990s, it will inevitably lead to a meltdown. Chaos, mass migration, and a revived threat of international terrorism will be natural corollaries. Avoiding this must surely be our global imperative”. The recent conference and preceding engagements by Pakistan are in line with the prime minister’s statement.

Pakistan has announced humanitarian aid for Afghanistan as have its regional partners. However, this is unlikely to sustain the economy of the war-torn country in the medium to long term. There is very little Pakistan can do in this regard as it is hit by its own economic woes.

As Pakistan seeks stability in Afghanistan, calling on international players to support the new regime in Kabul, it faces tough calls at home. It has been trying to put down terrorist groups including the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. In a recent interview, National Security Adviser Moeed Yousaf hinted at granting a general amnesty to the militant groups. He hastened to add however that “there is no such decision”.

How far does one go when it comes to developing and deploying strategic interests while dealing with such militant groups and facilitating another country’s leadership? Can a policy that worked for one always work for the other? 

While it is understandable that Pakistan should want the war with the TTP (and other terrorist groups) to end, it cannot disregard the previous attempts at peace and the failed negotiations. A divide within the groups had appeared to pose more threats to the country.

Another group to blatantly challenge the writ of the state recently has been the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan. The group took to the streets, like last year, and caused loss of life and property. After some initial bluster the government reached an agreement with its leadership of which the details have been kept secret.

How far does one go when it comes to developing and deploying strategic interests while dealing with such militant groups and facilitating a regime in another country? Can a policy that worked for one also work for the other?

A peaceful Afghanistan can help Pakistan reach out to Central Asia, an economic advantage Pakistan has been trying to achieve for years. A humanitarian crisis is looming in Afghanistan. The worsening economic situation in the country could halt the projected progress. Irrespective of Pakistan’s best wishes and efforts, much of what Afghanistan needs can only be achieved by Afghan leadership itself.

As has been mentioned earlier, some interaction with non-state actors has become necessary for modern states. However, the relevant states are careful not to empower them beyond certain limits. The TTP, which had been dormant for a long time has been able recently to launch attacks against security forces in Pakistan. This has necessitated counter-attacks and raids by the security forces.

To avoid being distracted in its efforts to help the Taliban regime in Kabul establish working relations with the world at large, Islamabad has agreed to show some latitude to the TTP. That is why the “talks” facilitated by the Afghan Taliban are being held. But Pakistan needs to draw a clear line in its negotiations with the TTP and the TLP. Can the state welcome one in the political arena and deny legitimacy to other? Unless the talks result in TTP leaders pledging allegiance to the Constitution, the militancy will not end. At best, the group will need to find new bases to operate from.

Any agreements reached by the government with TTP and the TLP should be discussed in the parliament and made public.

Afghanistan is just one factor in our internal stability, Pakistan must also address the internal disconnect between strategy and survival.

The writer is an independent media and foreign policy analyst. She tweets @MsAishaK

Strategic conundrum