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How Legitimisation Of Afghan Taliban Will Affect Pakistan’s Domestic Politics

The Afghan Taliban are a ragtag militia, not an organised military force, which have no capacity to be part of a government of modern state. For practical purposes, this would mean that they would always require a supra-force (in this case the Pakistani establishment) to ensure their peaceful behaviour as part of a power-sharing arrangement with Afghan government at the conclusion of peace talks initiated a year ago under the auspices Pakistani state.

This would mean two things for Pakistan: a) That Pakistani establishment will be required to play a crucial role in power-sharing arrangement between Afghan groups which, most prominently, include Taliban and Afghan government. b) Pakistan military’s role will not end the day these two groups reach a power-sharing agreement. It will be a continuous role — the role of a powerful regional guarantor which will ensure peaceful behaviour of the Taliban.

Right now the peace talks are in the initial phase — the Americans are directly talking to the Taliban for the past one year and they have now given the task to the Pakistani establishment to bring them to the negotiating table with the Afghan government.

One thing is for sure that Pakistan’s horse, the Taliban, will now be a permanent feature of political life in Kabul, provided they reach a peaceful settlement with the Afghan political elite.

How the rise of Taliban — a retrogressive force ideologically — will reflect on the political environment of neighbouring Pakistan is an important question to ponder upon in advance. Ironically, one doesn’t see any debate on this question in Pakistani media even when all the indicators point towards a future where the Taliban will have a commanding role in Kabul. More importantly for Pakistan, these Taliban will be allied to the Pakistani establishment whose role in political engineering and manipulation of domestic political scene is already under sharp focus in the country.

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It’s not only that the Taliban’s role in the domestic politics of Afghanistan is getting legitimised. It is also the fact that the regional players like the Central Asian States – including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – as well as Russia, Iran and China want them to be part of the legitimised security structures in Kabul so that they could join forces with the Afghan government to deal with the rising threat of ISIS in eastern and northern Afghanistan.

Foreign policy experts in Islamabad particularly cite regional powers’ interest in dealing with the threat of rise of ISIS in Afghanistan as a major factor in their newfound willingness to support the Afghan peace process. So it is not surprising that all the regional powers neighbouring Afghanistan are supporting the new efforts to bring both Taliban and Afghanistan government into some power-sharing arrangement.

On the other hand, the Pakistani military and political leadership is in direct talks with at least two regional countries over the rise of ISIS as a force in northern and eastern Afghanistan, a senior government official said.

The two regional countries, which have discussed its security implications with the Pakistani military and political leaders, are the Russian Federation and Iran.

During the past one year, the Pakistani officials, while visiting the capitals of these two regional countries, were confronted with the questions related to the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials, while denying the possibility of any organised presence of ISIS threat in their own countries, in their public assertions have pointed out the rising tide of ISIS-led violence in Afghanistan.

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The Russian Federation is concerned about the rise of ISIS in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, which border Central Asian States – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – as Russia considers Central Asia to be within the security zone that comes under its sphere of influence. Similarly, the ISIS in western Afghanistan is a cause of concern for Iran.

On the other hand, the Pakistani military officials have expressed concerns over the rise of ISIS in Nuristan, which, they say, is a source of sectarian violence on Pakistani territory.

Security experts say some Salafist groups, which were formerly allied with the Taliban, have joined hands with ISIS in Nuristan.  Most of the sectarian attacks in Pakistan appear to have been carried out by ISIS and its local partners which are mostly banned sectarian groups. Although the Pakistani government strongly denies the organised presence of ISIS as threat on its territory, the civilian and military leadership in one recent meeting have considered the new regional security situation arising from the ISIS-led violence in Afghanistan and Quetta.

All this will ensure that the Afghan Taliban’s role in domestic politics and security structures of the war-torn country would be readily legitimised in the coming months and years.

Taliban’s retrogressive tendencies are well-known. There are people in Islamabad who advocate that they are a much more sophisticated force now as compared to the past. Their leadership at the present has a vast experience of dealing with the cosmopolitan elite of world capitals and their response to domestic situations would be different this time.

For the Pakistani civil society the point of concern should be how the Pakistani state machinery would respond to domestic political opponents once their allies (or horse) will be in control in Kabul? How will the Pakistani Taliban respond to their rise in Kabul? There are already reports of Taliban punishing locals for listening to music in North Waziristan.

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The legitimisation of Taliban’s role in Afghanistan would be a momentous event in regional politics and it will affect Pakistani society the most. It is time for Pakistan’s civil society to wake up and take account of the situation.

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Umer Farooq

Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.

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