After the triumphal high of its ‘victory’ in Afghanistan, the reality of the baggage that comes with ‘winning’ in Afghanistan seems to be starting to bite Pakistan. The party might be ending for Pakistan even before it started what with the bill which has been recently moved in the US Senate and which, it is feared, could lead to crippling sanctions not just on Afghanistan but also Pakistan.
For Pakistan, the Taliban capturing power in Afghanistan was supposed to bring unimaginable benefits. The Taliban would ensure that Pakistan got ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. They would prevent any anti-Pakistan activity from Afghanistan which would strengthen Pakistan’s internal security situation. With a friendly Taliban ensconced in Kabul, Pakistan could focus on trying to wrest control of Kashmir using similar tactics that it used in Afghanistan.
The improving security situation would also help in speeding up the projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, even extending it into Afghanistan and beyond by connecting it to Central Asia. Pakistan would become the hub of trade and transit in the region. Rivers of milk and honey would start flowing. ALSO READ: India Must Reach Out Across Kashmir’s Silence
Alas, the Sheikh Chilli dreams of Pakistanis are being shattered on the rocks of reality. The Afghan economy is in a meltdown. The Taliban don’t have any money to pay government servants. The entire foreign exchange reserves of the country have been frozen and are unlikely to be released anytime soon. The banking system has all but collapsed. There is a huge liquidity crisis which is now impacting on the crucial foreign trade. All the expectations that China will fill the coffers of Taliban have been belied so far.
There is no one ready to recognise the Taliban Emirate, not even Pakistan. The Taliban are not helping their own case by sticking to their abhorrent core ideological beliefs on women, minorities, power sharing etc. The PRICs – Pakistan, Russia, Iran and China – axis is only on paper. In any case, it doesn’t have the financial muscle to give $5-6 billion every year to run the Afghan state.
The entire fallout of the economic meltdown is being felt in Pakistan. Before the Taliban takeover millions of dollars would flow into Pakistan every day from Afghanistan. After the takeover, the dollars are flowing in the opposite direction. This has put additional pressure on the Pakistani Rupee which has depreciated by almost 15% ever since the Taliban offensive started in May last. Basically, having reduced Afghanistan into a virtual fifth province, Pakistan is now having to bear the burden, something it just cannot afford.
The impact on the Pakistan economy is just starting to be felt, and it will get worse regardless of Pakistanis managing to get the IMF programme back on track. The IMF conditionalities will make the economic situation in Pakistan even more dire. And if the IMF programme doesn’t come through, it will cause a major upheaval in the Pakistani markets. Meanwhile the FATF sword continues to hang over Pakistan’s head.
But the economic crunch is only part of the story. On the security front, all the calculations seem to be going wrong. Far from terrorism ending, Pakistan has seen a major spike in terrorist attacks from the Pakistani Taliban who are closely linked with the Afghan Taliban. Instead of reining in the TTP jihadists, the Afghan Taliban are counselling the Pakistanis to accommodate them. The Pakistanis did extend an olive branch of sorts.
But it was not only rebuffed by the TTP, it was also severely criticised by Pakistanis incensed over the prospect of giving amnesty to the TTP. Some Pakistani generals are not too perturbed by the uptick in terror attacks. They see it as collateral damage which will be limited to the Pashtun belt and not extend into Punjab or Sindh. But this is clearly not a tenable proposition.
Adding to Pakistan’s problems is the fact that even among the Taliban, there is a large cohort which isn’t exactly enamoured of the Pakistanis. The only Taliban faction that is loyal to Pakistan and ready to do its bidding are the Haqqani Network. The others factions have no love lost for Pakistan. For now, the Pakistanis have managed to manoeuvre the Haqqanis into pivotal positions. But sooner or later something is going to give especially since the Kandhari faction comprising the Taliban from South and West Afghanistan and some in the North will assert.
Meanwhile, there is no clarity about the whereabouts of the Emir-ul-Momineen Hibatullah. There is speculation that he might have met his maker. If so, then things could go south very fast for Pakistan and a new civil war could break out in Afghanistan between those who are lackeys of Pakistan, and those who don’t want to live under the Pakistani yoke.
Clearly, for Pakistan’s predicament is summed by Oscar Wilde’s epigram: In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst, the last is a real tragedy! Afghanistan will most likely end up as a tragedy for Pakistan. (PICTURE: OCHA AFGHANISTAN/TWITTER)
(Sushant Sareen, a security analyst at the Observer Research Foundation at New Delhi)
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