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Pakistan in deep soup for double standard on Taliban

Published : 23 Jul 2021 10:25 PM | Updated : 24 Jul 2021 12:11 AM

Pakistan has been reportedly keeping decades-long relations with the Taliban, on the other hand the country pretends to be a good friend of the US. Such double standard policy of Pakistan was criticised by many quarters in recent times.

Because of its debacle and double standard policy pursued on Taliban issue, Pakistan has got into a new mess with the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan, after the sudden quitting of NATO allied force led by America.

For decades, Pakistan has played a risky game by supporting or tolerating the Taliban and side by side trying to stay in Washington’s good graces

Earlier, former Pakistan’s Army General and also dictator of the country Pervez Musharraf see-sawed in Taliban issue. After seizing power in a 1999 coup, he found himself on the front line of the struggle between militant Islamists and the West. But by 2008, the career soldier had suffered defeat at the polls and was accused of unlawfully suspending the constitution to impose emergency rule. And then, 20 years after his rise to power, he was sentenced to death in absentia after being found guilty of treason.

His decision to support the then US President George W Bush's "war on terror" in 2001, following the 11 September attacks, inevitably meant that he would end up clashing with militants sympathetic to both the Taliban - who Pakistan's army has long-been accused of links to - and al-Qaeda. The president was often described as walking a tightrope as he sought to balance pressure from the US to crack down on extremism in Pakistan and the demands from an increasingly vocal and anti-American Islamist constituency, according to a BBC report.

According to The New York Times report of 2007, After the United States has spent more than $5 billion in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money.

In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.

According to Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani journalist who also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, Pakistan’s security establishment is cheering the Taliban’s recent military gains in Afghanistan. The country’s hard-liners have funneled support to the Taliban for decades, and they can now envision their allies firmly ensconced in Kabul. Pakistan got what it wished for—but will come to regret it. A Taliban takeover will leave Pakistan more vulnerable to extremism at home and potentially more isolated on the world stage.

The end of the United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan also promises to mark a turning point in its relationship with Islamabad. Pakistan has long veiled its ambitions in Afghanistan to maintain relations with Washington, but that balancing act—seen in Washington as a double game—will prove impossible in the event that a reconstituted Islamic emirate is established in Kabul. 

This would not be the vindication that Pakistan’s military is expecting: the Taliban are less likely to defer to Pakistan in their moment of triumph, and the Americans are not likely to reconcile with the group over the long term. Pakistan’s nightmare scenario would be to find itself caught between an uncontrollable Taliban and international demands to rein them in.

The Taliban’s victory will have an equally disastrous effect on Pakistan’s domestic peace and security. Efforts to force the Taliban’s hand might result in violent blowback, with Pakistani Taliban attacking targets inside Pakistan. And if fighting between the Taliban and their opponents worsens, Pakistan will have to deal with a new flow of refugees. A civil war next door would further damage Pakistan’s struggling economy. But Pakistan’s generals see the Taliban as an important partner in their competition with India.

Thirty years of support for jihad has also stoked Pakistan’s internal dysfunction. Its economy has struggled, except in years of generous American aid. Homegrown Islamist radicals have incited sporadic violence, such as terrorist attacks on religious minorities and riots demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador over alleged blasphemy in France against the Prophet Muhammad. Women’s rights have been publicly questioned and threatened, and mainstream and social media are regularly censored to accommodate radical Islamist sensibilities. The government was forced to “Islamize” the curriculum at the expense of courses in science and critical thinking.

Ironically, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan comes amid promises to reverse these trends. Four years ago, Pakistan’s current army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, declared that he wanted to transform Pakistan into “a normal country.” He has since also spoken of the need to improve relations with India and reduce Pakistan’s dependence on China.

For those Pakistanis who see the world through the prism of competition with India, a Taliban victory offers some consolation. Pakistan has not been doing well in competition with India on most fronts, but its proxies in Afghanistan appear to be succeeding—even if Pakistan cannot fully control them.

But it is a pyrrhic victory. These developments will take Pakistan further away from becoming “a normal country,” perpetuating dysfunction at home and locking it into a foreign policy defined by hostility toward India and dependence on China. Washington and Islamabad’s long, mutual entanglement in Afghanistan threatens to further weaken the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. The United States is unlikely to soon forgive Pakistan for its decades-long enabling of the Taliban, Husain Haqqani stated in an article.

For years to come, Pakistanis will argue whether it was worth the effort to influence Afghanistan through Taliban proxies when, after 9/11, Pakistan could have secured its interests by fully siding with the Americans.