At the same time, Pakistan has propagated the theory that if international support and assistance fails, the fallout from any negative development in Afghanistan could impact the region and the world. The latter is conveyed in a subtle way so as not to be seen as part of an aggressive posture on Pakistan’s part.
The fact remains that Pakistan has a much deeper hand in Afghanistan than is claimed, and it cannot stop playing that role at this point. The Pakistani deep state remains firmly anchored in the Afghan system at various levels.
Meanwhile, in Kabul, the formation of the interim government left no room to praise the Taliban or their Pakistani advisers, as the cabinet includes an overwhelming majority of hard-line supporters. The domination of the Haqqani group has certainly put the international community on high alert.
The Taliban thus missed an opportunity to improve their image and sent mixed signals about their intentions in terms of forming the government and carrying out tasks. They have also failed to uphold women’s rights and inclusive government – the two fundamental issues the international community has cared about most.
In addition, the cracks in the structure of the Taliban and the conflicts of interest between senior leaders also sent a strong negative message. Reports of emerging differences within the ranks of the Taliban with speculation circulating that Mullah Baradar has been injured and even killed has led to growing doubts about the credibility of the current government.
If at the very beginning the government was marred by divergences, the scope and the possibility of delivery are bound to be limited. If inherent differences persist, it will only get worse as the government begins to function and critical decisions are made on a range of issues.
It cannot be ignored that given the aggressive character and nature of the leaders and their seasoned background, the possibility that their differences will precipitate to a level where casualties among them cannot be ruled out.
In such a situation, it would be difficult to support the government and disenchanted factions could come to the fore in challenging power. The situation could escalate into a long-term civil war. Such a scenario is based on the assumption that Pakistan does not indeed have a total grip on the various political factions and ethnic entities and is seen as favoring certain privileged sections.
Pakistan should therefore play a cautious role not to be drawn into a long-term internal conflict or to be blamed for siding with one faction against the other. However, Pakistan appears to be a long way from adhering to a safe course of action on this front.
Afghanistan also has a very complex network of various radical entities which have multiplied on Afghan territory over the years. Whether it is the TTP, ETIM or ISIS-K, these entities should all be engaged and brought into the civilized fold over a period of time, even if it would remain a difficult and challenging task for the government.
Pakistan’s role in this area would be critical although the chances of success appear bleak at this stage. The years of cross-dynamic between these groups which Pakistan has encouraged and played on will make it difficult for Pakistan to seek a secure compromise with them. If differences persist among leadership within the Taliban and leaders of disgruntled ethnic groups are sidelined, it will only further poison the atmosphere.
More importantly, in the ensuing developments and the prevailing uncertainties, the Chinese and Russians would be reluctant to wholeheartedly support the Taliban government. After the initial euphoria, the Chinese realized the dangers inherent in infiltrating the complex political and security labyrinth that prevails in Afghanistan.
The Chinese establishment realizes that by no means can China on its own respond to the aid and assistance that Afghanistan has received from the international community over the years. With around 80 percent of the Afghan economy fueled by external support, China would not be able to replace this package.
In addition, the predictions are that given the prevailing situation, Afghanistan will experience a deep decline in the socio-economic sphere in the coming days, and it would indeed be difficult for China to pull the nation out of the crisis on its own. .
Any substantial Chinese involvement in Afghanistan could also distract Chinese attention from major Chinese foreign companies, including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Covid crisis has taught the global community that nations must remain prepared for any eventuality in the form of natural calamities that could draw on significant national resources.
Afghanistan is known to be a deep sink capable of absorbing an endless amount of aid and assistance without a viable outcome. Afghanistan received around $ 35 billion in aid from the international community between 2002 and 2009, an average of $ 5 billion per year.
This is other than direct aid in the form of support to the Afghan Defense Forces and distributions of equipment and supplies that are not counted. A struggling Afghanistan, which has yet to build its own defense force and its own security establishment, will require large sums of nation-building sums in addition to regular aid. China should carefully consider these aspects, as reliance on its fair weather friend on this aspect is futile.
The security factor is another aspect that China should take into consideration, as the security situation is set to remain volatile for some time to come. China would be concerned about this aspect, especially based on the American experience.
In addition to causing several casualties, the US military action has also led to the generation of hatred towards the United States in some cross sections of Afghan society, especially with collateral damage caused in various operations.
More importantly, the United States has now left Afghanistan without making any noticeable change in the political and security spheres. Removing the Taliban from power and giving them the reins of government after 20 years at the cost of enormous expense and loss of life is a learning lesson for all nations willing to engage Afghanistan.
The Russians have also had to pull out after a ten-year bitter experience with Afghanistan, and would know better why getting involved in Afghanistan as a single actor could be damaging at this point. At the same time, Russia is concerned about its own security and that of the Central Asian region which it sees as its last frontier of defense against any influx of ideology or radical rhetoric from Afghanistan.
Russia fell victim to radical Islam when it came to dealing with the Chechen crisis and worried about the 30 million Muslims in Russia, especially during the heyday of ISIS. Russia realizes that any involvement in Afghanistan must be well calibrated and part of a larger platform rather than going alone. Iran, on the other hand, has been watching developments closely and would remain focused on the interest and welfare of the Hazaras. Their insistence on inclusive government is an expression of their dissatisfaction with the current formation of government.
The situation therefore remains extremely complex in Afghanistan. Significantly, the role of Pakistan’s deep state remains a concern for the international community. Despite the fact that Pakistan tries to downplay its role in Afghanistan, the extent of its involvement in Afghanistan in terms of micro-management activities would make it difficult for Pakistan to avoid blame for any incidents in Afghanistan to the to come up.
In its desperation to seek strategic depth, Pakistan has bit more than it can chew without considering the long-term implications. Should the security situation deteriorate further due to political differences and related factors, Pakistan would inevitably become involved in dismantling the mess, further damaging the credibility of the Afghan government.
Although Pakistanis were euphoric after the Taliban takeover, the toxic fallout from any deterioration in the political and security situation would hit Pakistan hardest. It would therefore be in Pakistan’s interest to move cautiously in Afghanistan and preferably ensure that it is part of a larger group of nations in the process, rather than making Afghanistan its own stronghold.