“US dependence on Pakistan against Taliban is a nightmare”

Islamabad, Pakistan: The US is depended on Pakistan to deal the peace treaty with Taliban in order to protect Afghanistan from continuously increasing violence.  

Michael Hirsh writing in Foreign Policy said that the US banking on Pakistan to broker successful peace talks with the Taliban is not likely to happen.

Many experts say such hopes are delusional, and history will likely triumph in the end: Pakistan and the Taliban leadership–which is still headquartered in Pakistan–will continue to have each other’s backs on the battlefield as well as at the negotiating table. In short, Pakistan wants the Taliban to win–or at least is unwilling to do much to prevent this from happening.

“Pakistan is supporting the Taliban’s offensive. Without Pakistani logistical support, the Taliban could not undertake the massive nationwide attack it is pursuing,” said Bruce Riedel, who served as a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to four U.S. presidents. “The ISI [Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service] is already pleased it has ejected all the foreign troops from Afghanistan. The goal now is to induce panic in the Afghan government and army.”

As per the Biden administration’s argument, even with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, neither the Taliban nor Islamabad desire a repeat of the bloody history that led up to 9/11: Taliban atrocities, sanctions, massive refugee flows, and international isolation for both countries, says Hirsh.

Taliban leaders and Pakistani officials have said so themselves recently, as has the United States’ lead negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad.

“The Taliban said they do not want to be a pariah state,” Khalilzad said Tuesday at the Aspen Security Forum. “They want to be recognized. They want to receive assistance.”

But the fact on the ground is totally opposite. Post-US withdrawal, Afghanistan has been led to civil war due to the Taliban offensive.

Despite presenting themselves as diplomats on the world stage since peace talks with the Americans began in 2020, the Taliban are resuming their brutal past practices as they move into major Afghan cities, such as Kandahar (Afghanistan’s second-biggest city after Kabul), Lashkar Gah, and Herat, reported Foreign Policy.

This week, even the US government acknowledged that reality. “In Spin Boldak, Kandahar, the Taliban massacred dozens of civilians in revenge killings,” the US Embassy in Kabul tweeted on Monday. “These murders could constitute war crimes; they must be investigated & those Taliban fighters or commanders responsible held accountable.”

Over the past decade or so, Pakistan supported the Taliban even in the face of a US-led, 46-nation coalition backing up the elected Afghan government in Kabul. That policy is less likely to change now, with the US military and NATO leaving and the Afghan government under assault and losing credibility fast, says Hirsh.

Moreover, the peace talks appear to be going nowhere, since neither the Taliban nor Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is willing to negotiate with each other, with each side claiming legitimacy as rightful rulers.

In the middle of it all sits Pakistan, which still has significant–if waning–influence with the Taliban, since it harbours many of the group’s leaders and their families.

“It’s frankly idiotic to think that this is somehow a softer, gentler Taliban than the one of 2001. If anything this is a harder, harsher Taliban,” said former US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker.

“After 20 years in the wilderness, the Taliban are finally getting their game back. They’re not interested in talking to anybody unless it’s about terms of surrender for the Afghan government.”
Pakistan continues to engage in the double game it has long played: pleading for an international settlement while quietly backing the Taliban on the ground, says Hirsh.

“Pakistan is not going to turn its back on the Taliban. Why would it do so now that the Taliban have ‘won’ thanks to Pakistan’s own unrelenting efforts?” said Christine Fair, a political scientist at Georgetown University. “What is the US willing to do now that it wasn’t willing to do when Pakistan’s proxies were murdering our soldiers and civilians and those of our partners in Afghanistan?”

Though, Washington has long known of Pakistan’s two-faced behaviour, but US reluctance to push Pakistan too hard is rooted in a singular fear: Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state.

To isolate Pakistan and identify it as a supporter of terrorism could easily create a nightmare much worse than what happened in the late 1990s when a Pakistani smuggling network-enabled Libya to obtain nuclear weapon designs.

Even more frightening to Washington is the prospect that an unstable, isolated Pakistan could fracture, and terrorists might get hold of the country’s nuclear weapons, says Hirsh.

And even US leverage, when used, has proven limited–and is even less effective now that a rising China has increased aid and investment in the face of US hostility toward Beijing; for China, the “economic corridor” with Pakistan is one of the biggest pieces of its massive Belt and Road Initiative.

Overall, US military aid to Pakistan decreased by 60 per cent between 2010 and August 2017 “without a significant impact on Pakistan’s behaviour,” a 2018 Brookings Institution study reported.
As a result, both Washington and Islamabad appear to be playing a game of diplomatic pretence. “In a dream world,” Crocker said, “a negotiated settlement would be great, but that isn’t going to happen, so the Pakistanis are safe in saying that’s what they’re pushing for.”

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