The emerging security situation in the wake of Afghan peace deal will have serious implications for Pakistan’s domestic politics—the pressure of the right wingers on Pakistani security forces to reconcile with Taliban and other militant groups will increase manifold, writes Umer Farooq.
The talks between Afghan Taliban and US Administration and an impending peace deal between them could significantly influence Pakistan’s domestic political situation and external security environment in the coming months and years. And In spite of this fact there is hardly any debate as part of the public and media discourse on the possible impact of an impending deal on the strategic environment Pakistan and its government find themselves in.
The impending peace deal is seen as a major success of Pakistani diplomacy and efforts by Pakistan’s military and intelligence officials to convince the recalcitrant Afghan Taliban to come to terms with the US forces in Afghanistan. As part of this effort one of visible success of Pakistani effort was witnessed when Taliban in Afghanistan agreed to halt the violence against US and Afghan forces in side their country.
Now on February 29, 2020, (Saturday) the representatives of US Administration and Taliban officials will sign a peace deal to bring an end to the 18 years long conflict in Afghanistan. Reportedly, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is paying a visit to Doha, where the peace deal will be signed, before the ceremony to ink the peace document. Pakistan is likely to be represented by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the ceremony.
So far neither party has revealed the contours of the peace agreement that would be signed in Doha. The basic question that would define the nature of the peace deal is what role Taliban would be assigned in the future polity of Afghanistan, after US withdrawal and after peace and normalcy has returned to the war torn country? Whether Taliban would be part of the governmental or state structures in the future Afghanistan? Or will they only be recognised as the legitimate player in the future polity of Afghanistan? The answer to these questions will come to light only when the peace agreement would be made pubic in the coming days.
However in either case this would be have serious consequences for Pakistan’s domestic political and security conditions. If Taliban becomes part of state and governmental structures in Afghanistan would that mean that Pakistan would have a friendly government in Kabul? This could also mean that the situation would ultimately lead to curtailment of Indian influence in Afghanistan.
In the past, Taliban have shown ambivalent attitude towards India—on the one hand they have shown the tendency to deal with India at the diplomatic level in the context of unstable security environment of Afghanistan, while on the other hand some Taliban groups have launched terror attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan. Part of the answer to this question could be gleaned from the fact that whether Taliban would completely shun violence in the post-peace deal situation? This answer may suggest their attitude towards Indian interests in the region. Taliban are primarily an armed militia and it would be almost impossible to expect that they would completely abandon violence with in the violent security context of Afghanistan.
However, there is a possibility of Taliban militia integrating into Afghanistan’s security forces and directing their energies against another military threat emerging in the region—that is the threat of ISIS in Afghanistan. This is what different regional players including Russia and Central Asian states expect from Taliban.
Taliban becoming part of Afghan governmental structure or they getting integrated into Afghan security apparatus will have serious implications for Pakistan. There is a big possibility that there might start a move to initiate similar efforts in Pakistan to bring about a peace deal between Pakistani Taliban and Pakistani security forces.
Pakistan security forces, however, don’t see this as a possibility to extend any kind of olive branch to Pakistani Taliban. Firstly, Pakistani Taliban has been defeated on the battlefield and secondly they have shown no tendency to abandon violence within Pakistani society or to get themselves integrated into the society.
After US-Taliban peace deal, the continued fighting between Pakistani Taliban and Pakistani security forces will be seen as an anomaly, the demand to remove which will generate its own pressure. There is a serious and strong body of opinion within Pakistan, which sees the fighting between militant groups and security forces in Pakistan as an extension of the problem of presence of US forces in the region. With the complete withdrawal of foreign forces, the fighting between Pakistani security forces and Taliban will lose any meaning, this body of opinion argues. Thus pressure on Pakistani security forces to abandon the fight.
The emerging security situation in the wake of peace deal will have serious implications for Pakistan’s domestic politics—the pressure of the right wingers on Pakistani security forces to reconcile with Taliban and other militant groups will increase manifold. Security experts are in a quandary to predict what kind of reaction one could expect from Pakistan militant groups in the situation where their mother organisation—the Afghan Taliban—will enter into a peace deal with their worst enemy—the US Administration.
Will Pakistani groups continue to attack US and Indian installations in Afghanistan, after Afghan Taliban have signed a peace deal US administration? Will this peace deal reduce the determination or capacity of Pakistan groups to continue to attack Pakistani security forces? We don’t know yet. In fact we don’t know what kind of impact this peace deal will have on Pakistani groups. Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban don’t have any kind of organisational linkages. But they do interact at some level. Only time will tell how they will react to this deal.
One thing is for sure that non-violent and non-Taliban Pashtun groups like Pakistan Tuhufaz Movement (PTM) will come under increased pressure because of this peace deal. Pakistani establishment’s grip on power will further increase as their international stature will increase as part of bringing about the deal. Similarly, after staging such a diplomatic victory, Pakistani establishment will see PTM as an obstacle in the way of achieving strategic objectives in the region.
What, however, is completely inexplicable is why the talks between Afghan Taliban and US administration failed to generate enough interest among Pakistan’s political elite and media circles, despite the fact that there is so much at stake as far as Pakistani interests are concerned. Plausibly, foreign policy issues never generate such a heat as to take media by storm in Pakistan. Frist, because Pakistani media is not foreign policy oriented and secondly, there is a little understanding how much this peace deal will change the strategic environment of the country as well as the attitude of Pakistan’s military establishment towards the external and internal problems they are facing.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.