The Afghan Taliban’s spectacular sweep across the country, and the instant dissolution of the Ashraf Ghani government has left the world stunned; it has made Pakistan’s decision makers huddle together to brace for the impact of this development.
Pakistan’s top security body, the National Security Committee, had an emergency meeting to focus on the way forward. The press note makes it obvious that the uncertainty that grips the whole region is also seeping into Pakistan’s highest echelons of power.
The meeting reiterated the stance that Islamabad “remains committed to an inclusive political settlement as the way forward representing all Afghan ethnic groups.” It reaffirmed that “Pakistan would continue to work with the international community and all Afghan stakeholders to facilitate an inclusive political settlement in the country….” and that the principle of non-interference in Afghanistan must be adhered to.”
Privately, members of the Pakistan’s powerful establishment, however, sound less hopeful about the inclusive nature of government taking shape in Afghanistan. They realise that the Taliban’s military gains and their final push into Kabul that has erased even the last signs of the Ghani government has removed the last compulsion on them to bring members of other communities on board, especially those representatives who were part of the old government.
“They will bring other ethnic groups on board but for now it looks that this is going to be done on their own terms”, a high-ranking military official told Gulf News. Members of government who participated in the security meeting indicate that the government, while engaged with the Taliban, does not think it has a huge influence with the group.
One of them spoke to the Gulf News, “Pakistan should not be burdened with the responsibility of managing the conduct of the Taliban. They are a force onto themselves and know how to deal with the world.” He cited the examples of Turkey, Russia, China and other nations that are directly talking to the Taliban.
It is clear that Pakistan is waiting and watching for things to take concrete shape in Afghanistan and for the new dispensation to take a formal shape to put all its cards out on the table. For instance, no one in Islamabad is yet thinking of giving recognition to the Taliban.
New ground realities in Kabul
Insiders in Islamabad say that unlike the past, this time Pakistan would follow the world’s reaction to the Taliban takeover as far formally endorsing them. “Recognising ground realities is different from recognising a government," a member of the federal cabinet told Gulf News.
However, handling this new ground reality itself is quite challenging. Pakistan is worried about the situation on the borders with Afghanistan, where pressure is developing for a free passage of goods and citizens, one of the first demands that the Taliban made when they seized the border towns of Spin Boldak.
Pakistan is touchy about this border and has spent billions of rupees to fence it in order to regulate movement that often involves smugglers carrying various contraband. “We don’t want any spillover to create a fragile situation on this side of the fence”, said a military official.
Pakistani forces, he said, are in a state of high alert on the border and the high command is monitoring the situation on an hourly basis. The chaotic scenes in Kabul have further aggravated the sense of urgency.
“Everything is in a state of flux. We cannot say if this is a moment of creating a peaceful neighbourhood or if this is something else,” said a federal minister who wished not to be named. For now the statement has to be taken at face value. Hopes and fears are evenly poised. And not for the first time, Pakistan finds itself in the middle of it.
Syed Talat Hussain is a prominent Pakistani journalist and writer. Twitter: @TalatHussain12