The relations between Pakistan and the Taliban have hit a bumpy road during the past few weeks. The latest irritant has been the Taliban Acting Defence Minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob’s accusations that Pakistan allowed the use of its airspace by the Americans, which killed the Al-Qaeda Chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri on July 29 this year. His statement has raised many questions regarding the future of Pakistan-Taliban relations. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry immediately rejected Mullah Yaqoob’s allegations, calling them ‘conjectural allegations’. The Foreign Ministry said: “In the absence of any evidence, as acknowledged by the Afghan Minister himself, such conjectural allegations are highly regrettable and defy the norms of responsible diplomatic conduct.”
Diplomatic circles are now speculating whether the expiry date of Pakistan’s marriage of convenience with the Taliban has arrived earlier than anticipated. The Afghan Taliban’s dubious role in sheltering the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and their reluctance to restrict the movement of the TTP cadres have also raised suspicions about the sincerity of the religious militia regime in establishing a stable relationship with Pakistan.
One is intrigued as to why Mullah Yaqoob chose to level such accusations when many countries have opened their missions in Kabul without recognising the Taliban regime. Is he pursuing a confrontationist course against the US and Pakistan to consolidate his position within the Taliban ranks, especially against Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has gone into hiding after the killing of Zawahiri? He is equally aware of the growing influence of moderates in the Taliban ranks who are more exposed to the outside world and can negotiate much better deals to alleviate the plight of their fellow citizens facing a humanitarian crisis in the country. By accusing Pakistan, Mullah Yaqoob cannot absolve the Taliban’s responsibility of taking counterterrorism measures against Al-Qaeda, whether he likes it or not.
Another mistake the Taliban are committing is misinterpreting the Doha Agreement. Soon after Zawahiri was killed, the Taliban accused Washington of violating the Doha Agreement. In a statement, the Taliban said: “Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the USA, Afghanistan and the region.” While looking at the Taliban narrative during the past year, one gets the impression that after agreeing with the US, they (Taliban) have attained immunity against any reprisals, especially in counterterrorism.
US officials, however, blamed the Taliban for acting against their counterterrorism commitments made in the same agreement. A State Department statement read: “By hosting and sheltering the leader of Al-Qaeda in Kabul, the Taliban grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries.”
Such accusations and counter-accusations by the Taliban and the US respectively brought to fore the inherent flaw in the Doha Agreement to spell out the obligations of the signatory parties. The long-held view of the US is that the Haqqani group sheltered Zawahiri and other Al-Qaeda operatives, to which the Taliban’s response has always been non-committal. The hardliner Taliban cannot reconcile to the international demands of apprehending Al-Qaeda operatives or handing them over to the US for trials. Over 130 Taliban personalities, including several interim cabinet members, figure in the 1267 Committee (now called the 1988 Committee). These people are to be held liable before a court of law for their role in supporting Al-Qaeda or indulging in terrorist activities.
The Taliban should not forget that the 1267 Committee’s obligations are under Chapter VII of the United Nations (UN) Charter, which binds all the members of the UN to apprehend and prosecute the Taliban and Al-Qaeda members figuring in the Committee’s list. There are also reports that members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Uyghur separatists of Xingjian are taking shelter in Afghanistan with the knowledge of the Taliban authorities. The Taliban also entertain the impression that the Doha Agreement has made them acceptable internationally.
The Taliban will have to clarify their position regarding the presence of Zawahiri in a posh locality of Kabul. Their explanations of ignorance about Zawahiri’s presence hold little credence as Sirajuddin Haqqani’s residence was a few metres away from Zawahiri’s. Common sense demands that Haqqani, the Interior Minister and an internationally wanted terrorist, would live carelessly in a locality without necessary checks about the people residing in the neighbourhood. How many more Al-Qaeda leaders and operatives are still in Afghanistan with the consent of the Taliban regime is still a question mark unless the Taliban come clean on the issue.
Second, while the Taliban could prove their military prowess, they failed to display the statecraft even from their standards of running an Islamic Emirate. The Taliban brand of Islam may represent conservative Pashtun characteristics, but it hardly offers a role model even to the Pakistani Pashtuns, leaving alone the rest of Pakistan. Their rigidity against women’s rights in the name of Islam is an embarrassment for the Islamic world.
Third, the TTP’s attacks on the Pakistani forces using Afghan territory are becoming severe by the day. The government of Pakistan will have to take serious measures to counter the growing activities of the TTP, as any laxity displayed by the forces would prove costly for the state’s writ in the country. The government must make it clear to the Taliban regime that TTP’s use of Afghan soil will not be tolerated. Simultaneously, the government of Pakistan should declare unequivocally that, short of surrender, no compromise with the TTP would be acceptable and that the Afghan Taliban’s support to the TTP would be considered a hostile act.
Fourth, Pakistan must sensitise the immediate neighbours of Afghanistan about the evolving situation in that country and chalk out a common strategy to ensure that extremist and terrorist elements residing in Afghanistan are taken to task by the Taliban, or they should be ready to face the consequences. Given the TTP’s renewed attacks on Pakistani forces, the government of Pakistan should issue a white paper about the Indian activities and see if there is a linkage between the Afghan Taliban and India.
Finally, the government of Pakistan should make it amply clear to the Afghan Taliban that while Pakistan would value its relationship with Afghanistan as a brotherly country, it would expect the Taliban regime to conform to the international norms by taking action against the internationally recognised extremists and terrorists taking shelter on Afghan soil. Since the US has taken it upon itself to lead the international efforts against the terrorists, it enjoys the approval of the UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1267, 1368 and 1373 for any action it takes against the terrorists wherever they are. In this regard, the Taliban should not expect Pakistan to deny the US or any other force action against Al-Qaeda terrorists, be they Zawahiri or his colleagues. Therefore, Mullah Yaqoob should look at his backyard before accusing Pakistan.
Note: This article appeared in BOL, dated 18 September 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.