As the Taliban regains control in Afghanistan, political tension between Pakistan and the United States is preventing robust discussion about that country’s future, argue Tasmia Tahira and Matie Tareen
Among the many foreign powers in Afghanistan who attempt to benefit from the Taliban takeover, Pakistan is distinguished.
Owing to Pakistan’s relentless support for the Afghan Taliban, the United States often uses the country as a scapegoat to avoid taking responsibility for its failure in developing a strong national military force and containing the Taliban.
Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan’s security and politics is very tangible, but blaming Pakistan has become an attempt for the US to deny responsibility. This blame game has now dominated the US-Pakistan affairs, as the US blames Pakistan for supporting the Taliban and Pakistan blames the US for its withdrawal strategy.
US foreign policy in South Asia and strategic alliance with India, given the continued hostility between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, has kept US-Pakistan very acrimonious. Pakistan remained deeply suspicious over India’s increasing role in Afghanistan in the past decade and believed India was acquiring influence at US behest.
The US continued to be wary of Pakistan’s refusal to comply with American’s Afghan strategy during the “War on Terror”, a crackdown on all Taliban including Haqqani group bases in Pakistan. Pakistan kept itself at a distance from the Taliban, seemingly, due to its financial reliance on the US. Despite a fraught relationship, Pakistan continues to be one of America’s largest beneficiaries of foreign aid. However, as the US withdrawal deadline came closer, it brought its secret support for the Taliban into the open.
The US wants Pakistan to exercise its influence on the Taliban and pressure them to refrain from violence and persuade them to foster an intra-Afghan peace deal. Pakistan, however, claims that it has very little leverage on the situation in Afghanistan.
As international fingers are pointed at Pakistan, Pakistan tried to show that it is dissociated from the Taliban. The government of Pakistan adopted a cautious approach to recognise the Taliban government. This time, its choice regarding recognition of the Taliban regime is conditioned heavily and restricted by the international community and US response.
At the same time, Pakistan actively pursues the international community to grant recognition to the new Taliban government in Afghanistan with no success. Afghanistan was unrepresented at the recent annual General Assembly of the United Nations meeting, which could have been the place to describe the Afghan issue. Rather, Pakistan frittered away time by trading angry accusations with India.
Initially, when the Taliban took over Kabul, they publicly promised to form an inclusive government and respect women’s rights. The evidence contradicts these claims. As was predicted by many analysts, the issues of women have become the foremost concern of current day Afghanistan.
Women at Kabul University are banned from studies until the new regime defines and sets the rules to ensure that Sharia’s regulations on gender are met for girls’ education. Female judges are also in fear, as they had convicted many of the recent Taliban representatives now in the government. Women’s sports activities are halted, and no woman is allowed to play any kind of sports.
These stories predict a very challenging future for women in Afghanistan, and the disfunction of different ministries and government departments is adding to the fiasco. The financial concerns, asset freezing and the lack of human capital to run the administrative machinery are some of the basic issues that need to be resolved.
Pakistani policymakers are aware that giving recognition to the Taliban regime when other countries are reluctant to do so, would jeopardise its international standing, leaving it isolated in the international community.
Pakistan likely chooses to not take the risk of offending the US and international community by extending its recognition to the Taliban regime unilaterally. In an interview with CBS News on in August, Pakistan’s US Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan, said the Taliban conduct determines Pakistan’s future policy in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is facing immense criticism at home and abroad for its hasty withdrawal plan from Afghanistan, leaving the country at the Taliban’s disposal, while putting Pakistan and the US on a collision course. Disagreements between the US and Pakistan over the Taliban have added more uncertainty about the future of Afghanistan, as well as US-Pakistan relations.
In the best-case scenario, the US and Pakistan would reach an agreement before the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. This has not happened, and the US is rather determined to penalise Pakistan for its clandestine support of the Taliban and threatening to impose sanctions like Iran.
Amid the political turmoil between the US and Pakistan, the Taliban is planning to make Afghanistan an Islamic Emirate and resists international pressure. In the short term, the Taliban regime would not gain recognition from the international community, and Pakistan loses its credibility.
The tension between Pakistan and the US obscures and prevents a robust discussion on the future of Afghanistan and uncertainty in Afghanistan looks set to continue.
*Tasmia Tahira is a founding member of the national research network Middle East and Islamic Studies (MEISA) hosted by the University of Otago. Tasmia and Matie Tareen are also doctoral students at the Center for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University Wellington Campus.