Large sections of the intelligentsia in Pakistan are getting increasingly apprehensive that the Taliban victory in Afghanistan that their present government has facilitated is already having deleterious impact on their own polity and on their society.
They also fear that with tacit support from Islamabad – political, diplomatic, tactical and in a small way economic – the new regime in Kabul may sit out the reservations from the world community and not involve women and minorities in governance and in public life.
This sitting-out seems plausible, and over a period, just way Pakistani support helped the Taliban sit out two decades of US-propped Karzai and Ghani governments.
These governments, they agree in their discourse in the media and discussions, despite all their flaws, allowed for a good measure of participation by the minorities and allowed women to educate themselves and seek employment, even if restricted to the cities. The blanket ban by the new Kabul rulers has ended even that,
Media reports lament that Islamabad while paying lip service to this denial of aspirations of the Afghans, including their basic human rights, is pitching for help from the world community to Afghanistan citing ‘humanitarian grounds’. This, they say, is euphemism for the world helping the Taliban financially without insisting upon their making their governance inclusive.
Negative impact is already evident, for one, in Balochistan. A new government formed on November 8 is all-men. It did not accommodate even those women lawmakers who had campaigned for the political change.
Three women, denied ministership, were made parliamentary secretaries, way below a junior minister in a government. Unhappy, they stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony.
“One of the more disappointing and surprising elements of this new cabinet is that it features no women at all. The Nation newspaper said in its editorial (November 9, 2021).
It also lamented the absence of Pakhtun representation in the cabinet, considering the presence of Pakhtuns in Balochistan, just as there are Balochs living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“The Chief Minister has already argued against this issue, but in the case of representation matters are never simple. There will always be questions of adequate voices and seats at the table, and this is something that the new government will have to navigate in the months to come,” the newspaper observed.
The lot of the Pakhtuns has already worsened since the Taliban takeover in Kabul. Pakistan’s federal government and its party’s (PTI) government in the province, while being ‘soft’ to the religious extremists, are being harsh to the ‘nationalists’ in both provinces who fight discrimination and demand jobs and share in revenue from exploration of natural resources. Several Pakhtun lawmakers are in jail and others are pursued.
In both these provinces and even more so in Punjab, the government has been working to ‘reconcile’ with the Islamist radical groups ranging from the TTP and TLP.
The liberal sections of the society – politicians, academics, media, lawyers and the rights bodies among the many – are unanimous in their fears that the Afghan Taliban are a negative influence on Pakistani polity. The government in Islamabad is only looking at what is sees as ‘strategic’ gains, while overlooking the religious extremism and misogyny that comes with it, not to speak of the social and economic problems being exacerbated.
“Is the Taliban takeover a tragedy or a farce?” asks Professor Laila Bushra, Lahore University of Management Sciences. Writing for East Asia Forum (November 25, 2021), a major Southeast Asian think tank, she concludes that the former has already happened and there are high prospects of the latter happening.
Bushra says: “The biggest unknown about the second Taliban regime is whether it will continue the human rights violations that defined the first regime. There were severe restrictions on women, persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, public lashings, amputations, beheadings and destruction of Buddhist monuments.”
Of Pakistan’s role during the first Taliban regime (1996-2001) and its support to the new regime, she notes: “the jubilations in Pakistan have been premature. Last time, the Taliban’s international isolation, military weakness and economic dependence on opium trafficking through the Afghanistan–Pakistan border gave Pakistan considerable influence, especially in the conduct of formal and informal international affairs. Foreign journalists invited to interview Osama bin Laden had to get their visas from Islamabad and local journalists close to the Pakistan military got special access to the rising star of global terrorism.”
Bushra says those conditions do not now exist now, but the Taliban could move in “the other direction,” meaning emboldening of Pakistani religious extremists.
“Pakistan cannot use Afghanistan to train militants for experiments in low intensity warfare and is unlikely to enjoy significant leeway over the regime. If anything, the influence will now travel in the other direction, possibly resurrecting the long-standing conflict over the Durand Line as a legitimate border. That should cause Islamabad considerable concern.”
During the last two decades, Pakistan successfully hunted with the hounds and ran with the hare. Prof Bushra says that “The strategy worked against the United States but created fertile conditions for the Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to emerge and launch an insurgency that caused hundreds of thousands of casualties.”
Of the TTP’s role at the behest of the federal government that otherwise hunted it, she says” “The TTP eliminated senior leadership of the Pashtun nationalist party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and its eventual neutralisation has entrenched the military in Pakistan’s border areas.”
As a result, “the region has witnessed a new ethnic-nationalist movement, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which accuses the military of direct cooperation with the TTP. An Islamic order in Afghanistan will embolden deep-rooted Taliban networks and other Islamist groups across Pakistan, which the government will have to contend with sooner or later in addition to the PTM.” Of the Taliban’s supporters in Pakistan and elsewhere among the Muslim nations, Prof Bushra says: “Equally farcical are romanticized narratives about the anti-imperialist struggle of the Afghan people. The last defeat of an imperial power plunged Afghanistan into years of bloodshed and devastation, followed by another occupation and even more violence. How tragic the next phase turns out to be is now up to the Afghan people themselves.