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Dilemma for nations and for Afghanistan The Statesman 16 Nov 2021
Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul, nations in the neighbourhood have been competing with one another attempting to remain relevant players. While some seek consensus on Afghanistan, Pakistan considers it as its prodigal son and preciously guards it from nations which are on inimical terms with it. It is also Afghanistan’s only backer in global forums. After all, it invested heavily in funding and supporting the Taliban for decades and chose the current government, sidelining the moderates of Doha. Further, Pakistan’s intentions appear to be to exploit Afghan soil to further its aims on Kashmir. However, amongst the Afghans, Pakistan remains a hated nation for having imposed a Haqqani led Taliban government on it.
No nation has recognized Afghanistan, though all agree that its growing humanitarian crisis is impacting the common Afghan, rather than the leadership. Videos emerging from Afghanistan display extreme brutality against the common citizen including women and children. It is almost a similar scenario to North Korea, where millions die due to hunger while the ruling elite live in luxury, suppressing masses by brutality. Insecurity in the country, almost similar to that of Iraq or Syria, can become breeding grounds for terrorist groups impacting the larger region.
Every major nation in the neighbourhood, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China and now India are involved in discussions and conferences both at the diplomatic and security level to discuss the fallout from Afghanistan, seeking solutions for the future. Each forum, except those organized by Pakistan, issues near similar statements, including an inclusive government, humanitarian support, security fallouts from an unstable state, terrorism and drugs emanating from its soil and human rights mainly for women, children and minorities.
None mention that the Taliban government must be recognized, or its frozen financial assets released. The message being relayed every time is that unless Afghanistan adheres to global norms, it could be discarded as North Korea has been. The Indian meet passed an additional resolution, which was unhindered access to Afghanistan, hinting at Pakistan, which is blocking movement of Indian food and medical aid into the country.
Pakistan insists that the world must recognize the current Taliban government, imposed by it, as also release its frozen economic assets, despite Kabul refusing to fulfil conditions of the Doha accord. It is only in Islamabad that the current Kabul regime has placed its representative as an officiating Ambassador, whereas elsewhere, Afghanistan has no representative and hence no voice. This had led to Pakistan pleading on its behalf. The world currently ignores Pakistan’s pleadings, letting it handle Afghanistan.
The UNSC has also been ineffective as China has refused to permit strong resolutions through. However, despite hints from Russia and China, UNSC sanctions on the current Afghan leadership are not being lifted.
Discussions, organized by states, are attended by nations diplomatically close to the hosts, as was evident in the recently concluded Delhi meet. China and Pakistan skipped as India were hosts. Pakistan, as is tradition, had to override the Delhi meet and hence organized a meeting of the troika plus one involving US, China, Russia and itself with the Taliban’s interim Foreign minister, immediately after the Delhi summit. The visit of the Taliban leader was announced after the firming in of the Delhi dates and announcement of attendees.
A statement issued by Islamabad mentioned that the intention of their interaction was ‘to urgently provide humanitarian and economic support to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people.’ This is no different from what has been discussed in every other forum. The Afghan interim foreign minister was unable to convince the global community of adhering to their demands of an inclusive government and human rights leading to recognition.
Security concerns emanating from Afghanistan are currently impacting Pakistan the most, compelling it to commence talks with the banned TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan). There are also reports that to maintain pressure on Kabul, Pakistan is backing the ISIS in Afghanistan.
Pakistan had termed India as the ‘spoiler’ in Afghanistan. However, it is the reverse. Nations have ignored supporting or recognizing Afghanistan, apart from some humanitarian aid, largely due to the involvement of Pakistan, backed by China, both of whom remain untrustworthy nations. The US had to bear Pakistan’s double game for two decades mainly due to its requirement of Pak air space and Karachi port to maintain its forces in Afghanistan.
These piecemeal security or diplomatic conferences, attended by those closely associated with the host nation can never be a solution to resolving Afghanistan’s current crisis. Resolutions passed remain ignored as Kabul is being guided by Islamabad and Beijing, none of whom are capable of providing major aid. China released USD 31 Million, which has also come with riders including curbing the ETIM (East Turkistan Islamic Movement). Its aid comprises of medical stores and limited food aid. Pakistan has provided nothing much. Both these nations are themselves importing grains to overcome their own food shortages. India, which had a surplus wheat crop this year, is unable to support due to Pakistan’s unwillingness for road move.
If there has to be progress on Afghanistan, then nations will have to set their personal differences aside and present a common global front against the current Afghan dispensation. The intention would not be to seek one-up-man-ship but convey a firm and strong global message to the Afghan leadership, that in case it does not adhere to accepted norms, it would be ignored and sidelined from all global forums.
While such a conference is desirable, it is unlikely in the near future. Pakistan backed by China, would remain spoilers as they fear reduction of their influence over Afghanistan. The end result will be an ignored Afghanistan, its people suffering, terrorism emanating from within, impacting its neighbours first, subsequently the region. At some stage, the anti-Taliban forces would begin to gain credence, including the ISIS, Northern Resistance, Uzbeks and the Fatemiyoun Brigade consisting of Afghan Shia’s, each seeking to carve its own area of influence. Pakistan, which is the current stumbling block would be the first to pay a heavy price.