Pakistan has asked the Taliban to make good on their commitment that Afghan soil will not be used for violence against any country and rein in their ideological cousins Image Credit: Ador Bustamante/Gulf News

Left almost alone to bear the consequences of a meltdown in Kabul and takeover by Taliban, Pakistan is leading the advocacy for engagement with Taliban regime.

Continued sanctions are likely to result in complete meltdown of the Afghan economy and a grave humanitarian crisis, with severe impact on Pakistan’s struggling economy. With the revival of economic activity, Pakistan hopes to bolster its exports to Afghanistan (that have fallen from $2.6 billion five years back to just $750 million during the last year).

The Taliban have their own timelines on meeting donors’ expectations and their obligations but there are rising concerns in Pakistan over this.

Islamabad has used every engagement with the Taliban telling them that they must assuage international concerns on inclusive governance. Pakistan has also emphasised upon the international community that incentivising the Taliban will more likely change their behaviour rather than through punitive measures. Pakistan launched a diplomatic effort urging the international community to engage with the Taliban, help ease Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis and prevent it from descending into chaos.

While Islamabad continues to suffer immeasurably from war in Afghanistan for over four decades, Taliban’s foot-dragging on Pakistan’s key concerns is causing considerable anxiety among Pakistan’s policymakers.

Points of contention

The two main points of contention, both related closely are — getting the Taliban to acknowledge the Durand Line as an international border and flowing from it, securing the line to prevent infiltration by the Afghanistan based Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban Movement — TTP). There is resistance from Taliban on both counts.

Terrorist violence by the TTP has been on the rise since early 2021. The TTP killed 48 military personnel during January. A cease fire brokered by the Taliban could not hold. Announcing termination of talks with the TTP, Pakistan’s Interior Minister disclosed their demands were impossible to meet. Pakistani officials say that following the withdrawal of US and allied forces from Afghanistan, TTP insurgents apparently enjoy greater mobility in the country.

Pakistan has asked the Taliban to make good on their commitment that Afghan soil will not be used for violence against any country and rein in their ideological cousins. To Pakistani interlocutors, the Taliban claim that TTP actions are a local problem that should settle soon. But, they also hold Islamabad responsible for allowing the surveillance drones over Afghanistan.

Durrand Line

Durand Line was drawn on the map by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the then British foreign secretary in 1893, creating a buffer between the British Indian Empire and the Czarist Russia. Reinforced in the Treaty of Lahore in 1919 between then Afghan government and the British, no Afghan government has since recognised it as an international boundary. The British allowed free movement of men, material and money among the tribals, which mean there was no dividing line on the ground for the locals.

That arrangement remained in place but was progressively tempered till 2018 when Pakistan, facing cross border terrorism started fencing it, limiting the tribals to cross only from Torkham and Chaman-Spin Boldak. Its effect on the ground is devastating for millions of tribals living along the line, who own properties and did business for centuries either side.

People are married either side. It is hard for the people to accept that they sometimes need to travel thousands of kilometres and that too with a passport, just to meet someone or transact business in the village next door. Even now there are reportedly over 680 villages straddling either side of the line.

Taliban’s intransigence

For Pakistan it was a rude shock when the Taliban soldiers tore down part of the fence. Afghan Information Minister Zabiullah Mujahid insisted that Durand Line “has divided one nation on both sides,” which the Taliban “do not want.” The Defence Ministry spokesperson Enayatullah Khwarazmi described fencing of the border by Pakistan “illegal”.

A temporary arrangement allowing visa free travel for residents of adjoining districts, crossing only from two points is high risk for Pakistan because of TTP attacks.

Even though much of the sustenance is going into Afghanistan from Pakistan, a sustained state of economic collapse and insecurity could mean hundreds of thousands of impoverished Afghans streaming through the border, seeking refuge in Pakistan straining Pakistan’s struggling economy.

Pakistan has difficult choices ahead. It also faces Taliban’s known intransigence. Yet Pakistan is reluctant to pull back from the Taliban.

There is no appetite for a weak and instable Afghanistan in Pakistan.

Sajjad Ashraf served as an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore from 2009 to 2018. He was a member of Pakistan Foreign Service from 1973 to 2008 and served as an ambassador to several countries.