Taliban’s Return to Power
Social Response in Pakistan
In Pakistan, the reaction to the return of the Afghan Taliban to Kabul has ranged from joy and satisfaction to fear. On Pakistani social media, there was a clear division in views as a majority (Group A), which comprises mostly those segments of society that are opposed to anti-government, pro-status quo, anti-Pakistan ideology and anti-intelligence/security agencies propaganda, believe in Pakistan’s potential and have a religious tendency, showed happiness. On the other hand, a few people (Group B) reflected disappointment. They have their own reasons for not celebrating the Taliban’s victory. They equate Afghan Taliban with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and consider both entities two segments of a single tribe. A smaller segment within Group B also base their unhappiness and uneasiness due to sectarian preferences.
The response of the Government of Pakistan, however, has been between these two extremes. Pakistani authorities are satisfied that Kabul is no longer under the control of a government that was hostile to Pakistan and was engaged in global propaganda against us. So, this change in Kabul has given Pakistan some diplomatic relief. However, there are still issues that are of concern to Pakistan.
The unofficial response from Pakistan reflects the diversity of characteristics of Pakistani politics and society. Religious circles that have a liking for the Taliban are very happy with their success. They see it as a gift from God to those who had an unflinching faith in Allah Almighty, and the triumph of religious truth have remained steadfast despite the problems of the past twenty years. They are confident that the Taliban will succeed in establishing a stable government in Afghanistan that will be an example of what a true Islamic state should be.
Some people have expressed their joy on Taliban’s victory just because it was another serious blow to the mighty United States of America. It is important to mention here that the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government in October 2001, in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks. To that end, the United States had formed a global coalition that would help it succeed militarily. However, despite twenty years of huge military presence and unbridled use of force, the US failed in eliminating the Taliban and installing a stable government there. It could not even establish an alternative political and social order due to two major reasons:
First, it adhered to the values and the principles that were alien to the Afghan society; and second, it had relied completely on an artificially-created segment of that society. This included a select section of Afghan citizens and locals repatriated from the West who believed that the United States would never leave Afghanistan, thus providing them with a permanent umbrella to maintain their dominance in this war-ravaged country.
India has also been trying to strengthen its position in Afghanistan to advance its regional agenda on the basis of two assumptions.
Its first assumption was that the United States would withdraw from Afghanistan after making India a major player in the country’s affairs. Second, Indian authorities assumed that the Kabul administration, with its Afghan National Army and police that have been trained and equipped by the United States and NATO, would never allow the Taliban to succeed. Both assumptions, however, proved wrong.
The US’s failure in building a new Afghanistan depicts the fact that brutal military power does not guarantee political success. This is also the latest evidence of the decline of American power and its waning role in world politics.
Those in Pakistan who take a keen interest in global and domestic politics are also happy that the anti-Pakistan government in Kabul, which was first led by Hamid Karzai and then Ashraf Ghani, has finally been ousted. The Ashraf Ghani-led government was creating a bogeyman out of Pakistan just to cover up its failures in coping with the increasing pressure of the Taliban.
In this sinister campaign against Pakistan, the Ghani administration had full support of the Indian government, which has nefarious aims to advance its regional agenda and advance the proxy war against Pakistan by providing funds and technical and logistic support to the TTP and such other anti-Pakistan groups. The Kabul government was like a volunteer partner in anti-Pakistan activities because of India’s hostility to Pakistan, while India also provided technical assistance and resources for Afghanistan’s economic reconstruction. This led to an increased presence of Indian officials and commercial and technical entities, including undercover security and intelligence officers, in Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, some political circles in Pakistan have expressed their concerns over the return of the Taliban. They believe that the Taliban will eventually create a conservative political and social system that will never tolerate dissent. They think that the Taliban will eventually return to the political system they imposed on Afghanistan in the 1990s, having negative implications for Pakistan, which is a multi-ethnic society in terms of race, language and region. They want the government to keep a close eye on the situation in Afghanistan and take all possible precautionary measures to prevent the spread of extremism while also maintaining a safe distance from the Taliban.
Some people opposed to the Taliban have come up with a sensational idea of what is happening in Afghanistan. Referring to the policies of the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001, they believe that Afghanistan will once again sink into social and cultural “darkness” and “chaos”. They argue that a policy of denial of human rights, especially women’s rights, will be adopted in Afghanistan, which will have a negative impact on Pakistan in the domains of democracy and human rights.
The diverse response in Pakistan to the political changes in Afghanistan is understandable, as Pakistanis have the freedom to express their views on political and security developments in and around Pakistan. Different political parties and groups are free to take competitive positions on political issues affecting the country.
Another reason for Pakistanis’ keen interest in Afghanistan is that their country and society have suffered a lot because of the developments in Afghanistan. When Noor Mohammad Tarakai staged a pro-Soviet uprising against the Dawood government in April 1978, it did have an impact on Pakistan. The effects of the developments in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s can be seen in Pakistani society even today.
So, there is a need to cautiously monitor the situation in Afghanistan at the official and non-official levels. The authorities in Pakistan must judge the Taliban not on their words but on actions. The statements of the current Taliban leadership give an idea that they will form an all-inclusive, comprehensive government that will stick to the principle of modern governance. However, there should be little doubt that the system they will introduce will be based on religion and will also reflect the experiences they have gained over the last 20 years, including their direct engagements with the United States, China, Russia, Turkey and Central Asian states through the Doha office. This interaction is in addition to that with Pakistan and Iran. Taliban are aware of the global concerns about them and will try to alleviate those. So, they should be given time to improve their attitudes.
The Taliban can succeed this time only if they act as a state that is connected to the global system – rather than a movement. The real test will be how the Taliban build relationships with other states, especially the neighbours, and how much attention they pay to global concerns about the activities of international groups involved in violence and terrorism in Afghanistan.
Encouragingly, the Taliban have, to date, wrecked all analyses and fears of civil war, genocide, fierce fighting and mass killings (equally feared by Pakistan) as they entered Kabul. With general amnesty to civil servants and announcements ensuring peace and safety for residents, they have signalled a new policy. We can hope that victors of Kabul will not only live up to the expectations of the world of being a Reformed Taliban, but will also ensure a peaceful, stable, progressive and friendly Afghanistan towards its neighbours.