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Shabir Hussain

1. From the media reports on the Taliban, what is Pakistan's attitude towards the Taliban government coming to power? What is your professional view on the future trend of bilateral relations?

The Taliban victory in Afghanistan has a special significance for Pakistan. The media is overjoyed with the return and so is the government and larger population in Pakistan. This euphoria is understandable because the powerful Pakistan military establishment that is often cited as the de facto government has been the sole supporter of Taliban in the past. Before discussing the future of Pak-Afghan relations under Taliban, it is pertinent to discuss the reasons behind this affinity towards Taliban by the Pakistani military and society at large.

Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s and the resultant internecine war in Afghanistan till the first victory of Taliban in 1996, Pakistan military has enjoyed a greater say in the affairs of this country. Initially, Pakistan offered safe havens for the trainings of Afghan militants in the fight against Soviet Russians. After the Soviet debacle, US lost interest in the region and that provided Pakistan an opportunity to support its own brand of militants who were later called as Taliban fighters. The security establishment facilitated all this in the name of strategic depth—that in case of war with India, Afghanistan would help Pakistan by virtue of having a friendly regime. This is why Pakistan was very concerned with previous democratic governments in Afghanistan (Karzai and Ghani) because of their friendly postures towards India. In retaliation, Pakistan was the only country to have provided shelters to the top Taliban leadership when the infamous war on terror was in progress.

Interestingly, this policy of controlling Afghanistan by the Pakistani security establishment has got popular approval though for other reasons. First, Pakistan is home to millions of Afghan refugees for decades. Though these refugees are deprived of any rights, the popular opinion would say since we are feeding them, so we the right to intervene in the internal affairs of this country. Second, Pakistan is a deeply religious society. For majority of them, Taliban represents an ideal Islamic way of life. Some old Islamic scripts say that the global Muslim renaissance would start from this region and eventually the who world would see the dominance of Islam. Common Pakistani see Taliban as the noble group whose descendants would later establish the glory of Muslims.

So both the strategic and cultural affinity towards Taliban encourages Pakistan to see help install a friendly Taliban regime in Kabul. Pakistan has been a nice host to Taliban leadership when the whole world was chasing them. The Taliban leadership knows that except for Pakistan, they are unwelcomed in the region, so they would ensure to remain in close contacts with the Pakistani establishment. Both enjoy trust and confidence of each other. While Taliban needs Pakistan for both diplomatic and military support, Pakistan needs Taliban for a number of other reasons. First and foremost, the rising influence of India in the West of Pakistan would now be checked. Pakistan did not want a volatile western border and now the Taliban would guarantee safety. Second, Pakistan has been in hot waters diplomatically. Except for China, it has lost friendship in the West and Gulf region. All this cost it badly. Not only, it lost friends one after the other, the poor economic conditions made it harder for it to sustain itself. Sonner than later, it would default on its loans. With trouble in Afghanistan, it can engage international community and get some benefits. A bruised Afghanistan can help mitigate the economic and diplomatic problems of Pakistan. Being the gateway to Afghanistan, the international community would need help of Pakistan to settle things there. Since Taliban with their outlandish attitude towards all aspects of life would create problems of many sorts ranging from security to terrorism to persecution of minorities and even feeding their own population, one can expect an international outcry on most of the things. Any untoward happenstance in Afghanistan needs help from Pakistan and this realization among the Pakistani security establishment emboldens it to take so many risks.

In the past, we have seen Pakistan has been very handy in settlings things in Afghanistan and the history may soon be repeating itself. Though at popular level, Pakistanis support Taliban mainly for religious reasons, at the policy level, this relationship seems to be pragmatic. Both these levels are complementary to each other and are fully exploited by the establishment in Pakistan. Taliban are valuable assets and the more they engage in erratic behavior, the more it suits Pakistan.

Editor Assistant Research Fellow: Xianglin Gu

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