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Monday, September 20, 2021

Afghanistan fallout: Emboldened Pakistan deep state to repurpose terrorism as state policy


A triumphant Taliban return to Kabul is the worst of all the bad scenarios for India from the tumult in Afghanistan. It’s not that the Taliban will train its guns on India from day one — it most likely won’t — but the manner of victory has diminished the United States, which will consequentially embolden the Pakistan deep state to repurpose terrorism as state policy.

The dependence of an Afghan Taliban regime on neighbouring Pakistan will be quite high. It will count on Pakistan to do the diplomatic heavylifting to gain international legitimacy, want the borders open for goods and essentials to pass, get access to Pakistani port cities where feasible, besides all the other help that a pariah regime needs to build its acceptance.

Islamabad, on the other hand, will lean on the Taliban leadership to use its good offices with the Pakistan Taliban to control lawlessness and violence in the FATA-Waziristan area. What kind of deals get brokered in these negotiations is difficult to foretell but it’s safe to assume that Islamabad will deploy its newfound leverage with a Taliban regime in Kabul to seek out a new political equilibrium with Islamic fundamentalists, even if it’s shortlived.

At a wider level, Pakistan has positioned itself to be a conduit state for both the United States and China. After this humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Biden Administration is likely to rely on Pakistan and also its deep state to ensure the Taliban does not allow Afghanistan to become a terror hub for groups inimical to the US.

In return, Islamabad will look to use this leverage to acquire concessions from Washington, especially on the economic front and in anti-terror financing bodies such as the FATF.

As for China, the reachout with the Taliban has already happened and Pakistan’s bridging role is not just evident, but likely to expand if the conversation expands beyond security guarantees. Russia, as of now, seems to be going along with China, which again is a cause of worry for India.

The UN Security Council, which is currently under Indian presidency, will be an important site in the initial few weeks as a call would have to be taken on whether to recognize the regime in Kabul or not. How China and Russia approach this conversation will be extremely vital because in case of differences within the P-5 on the subject, the choices India makes will have deep ramifications.

While Pakistan will seek to prise out a strategic role for itself by leveraging the Taliban/terror card globally, India will have to find ways to build a frontline on the ground, however feeble it may be.

The outreach to Iran and its new president Ebrahim Raisi has already begun with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar making it a point to attend his oath taking ceremony. In this context, Tajikistan, though under Russian influence, may be a willing ally along with Uzbekistan in the days ahead as pressure from fleeing Afghan refugees rise.

In sum, the problem for Delhi is not the Taliban by itself, which those advocating talks with Taliban fail to

into account, but the interests of its prime backers. Pakistan has always put the India condition to all its Afghan interlocutors and will insist harder now that China is an active player too. As a result, the call on India from its strategic partners could well be to stay low key. But if the past is any guide, then Delhi must not wait to gear up against rise in India-specific terrorism and building like-minded sub-regional alliances in Central Asia and West Asia, at least to start with.



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