Pakistan's Current Role and Goals in Afghanistan

Published August 31st, 2021 - 11:27 GMT
the participation of the Taliban and Afghanistan's political leaders in the structure of a new transitional government in Afghanistan, and the political balance in Afghanistan's future government will be in Islamabad's favor.
Afghan and Pakistani nationals walk through a security barrier to cross the border as a national flag of Pakistan and a Taliban flag is masted in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on August 24, 2021, following Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (Photo by AFP)
The participation of the Taliban and Afghanistan's political leaders in the structure of a new transitional government in Afghanistan, and the political balance in Afghanistan's future government will be in Islamabad's favor.

By Farzad Ramezani Bonesh

Following ex-Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani taking office, and the opening of alternative ways such as; the port of Chabahar, central Asian countries and the airspace, the Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan became less. There are many aspects in which the ties between the two countries are now redefined.

Economic-transit interests and economic orientation of foreign policy

The decline of Pakistan's annual economic growth and Pakistani workers' remittances in 2020; the energy crisis, being in FATF's gray list, etc., have caused economic pressures and sanctions, and reduced foreign aid to that country.  Meanwhile, Islamabad pays attention to the economic corridor between China and Pakistan (with Chinese investment), and the transit role of Pakistan. In the meantime, Afghanistan certainly has the potential to work with Pakistan’s rival projects such as the Chabahar port.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, could be a potential corridor by participating in projects such as the TAPI pipeline, railways and the Casa 1000 transmission line for easier access to trade and transit of Pakistani goods to Central Asian countries. In this regard, the construction of the Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway network was concluded in February 2021 in Tashkent. In fact, Pakistan seems to be trying not to be bypassed through alternative transit routes and to preserve its economic interests in Afghanistan, apart from the wider economic presence in the Afghan market.

Efforts to force Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line

The Durand Line between the Pakistan-Afghanistan border covers an area of ​​2,560 km from north to south of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, by signing of the Durand treaty between Britain and Amir Abdul Rahman Khan in November 1893, Afghanistan dropped its claim on areas such as Swat, Waziristan and Chaman.  Practically parts of Pashtunistan remained in Pakistan. But since the establishment of Pakistan (1947), the Afghan-Pakistani conflict over the Durand Line has been a major historical challenge. In the last two decades, the Durand Line has also been a source of controversy. Pashtun nationalist circles in Afghanistan are calling for the unification of the Pashtuns of the two countries and the great Pashtunistan, an issue that Pakistan considers to be against its national interests.

Many in Kabul have emphasized on Afghanistan's official policy on the Durand Line and its non-recognition. Islamabad also considers the non-recognition of the current border line by Afghanistan as a violation of the territorial integrity of an important part of the country. In this regard, if the future government in Kabul tries to continue the Durand non-acceptance approach, this will still be a major challenge for Pakistan's national security.

Liaison with ethnic parties and groups inside Afghanistan

From Pakistan's point of view, the political parties of Afghanistan's various ethnic groups, such as Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, can pay attention to the Durand Line recognition approach. In this regard, in recent years and months, a number of politicians and high-ranking ethnic members have traveled to Pakistan. Islamabad is trying to avoid accusations of supporting terrorism and the Taliban in consultation with various ethnic and political currents in Afghanistan, and to prevent the rise of hatred and pressure on Pakistan. Afghanistan's ethnic parties could also be seen as tools to pressure the Taliban to moderate their behavior in Pakistan's interests.

The problem and danger of Afghan immigrants

The economic situation and the presence of more than 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan do not allow more refugees to be accepted in the country. Therefore, Islamabad, along with Turkey, has decided to pursue policies to prevent a new influx of refugees. The possibility of chaos and civil war in Afghanistan and the impact of this situation on the widespread increase of refugees to Pakistan have led Islamabad to practically prevent the outbreak of civil war and more bloodshed in Afghanistan.

Reducing terrorist threats from Afghanistan and eliminating Indian influence in Afghanistan

Pakistan has always used its rivalry with India to legitimize its political and economic power. Many in Islamabad believe that terrorists operating against Pakistan have the support of India and Afghanistan.  Pakistan claims that the secret connections of groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and others with the intelligence agencies of India and Afghanistan and the increase in insecurity have been documented. Pakistan believes India is abusing its presence in Afghanistan to create problems in Balochistan.

Baluchis and Pashtuns also live in Afghanistan, Therefore, many Pakistani policymakers see India's influence in Afghanistan as a potential security threat. Pakistan wants a government in Afghanistan to stop Indian influence.  The emergence of uncontrollable terrorism in Afghanistan has dire consequences  for Pakistan. The new wave of refugees to the borders is accompanied by the infiltration of terrorist elements in the cover of Afghan refugees.

In addition, Pakistan wants to continue to facilitate relations between China and the Taliban so that Afghan territory does not pose a threat to Pakistan and China.

"Activists of Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Nazryati party celebrate in Quetta on August 31, 2021, after the US pulled all its troops out of Afghanistan"
Activists of Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Nazryati party celebrate in Quetta on August 31, 2021, after the US pulled all its troops out of Afghanistan to end a brutal 20-year war -- one that started and ended with the hardline Islamist in power. (Photo by Banaras KHAN / AFP)


The convergence between Afghan’s future government and Pakistan

Previously, Pakistan's selective approach to extremism has been criticized by various figures in Afghanistan. Earlier, Pakistan National Security Adviser Muayed Yusuf has stated that Pakistan wants a political solution to the Afghan problem and does not accept military occupation. But many critics of Pakistan's approach see it as mere hypocrisy and a strengthening of the country's defense against diplomatic criticism or the possibility of sanctions for supporting a terrorist organization.  In this regard, Islamabad, apart from paying attention to the principle of non-interference in Afghanistan, emphasized the commitment to a comprehensive political settlement involving all ethnic groups in Afghanistan

Geopolitical competition with other actors

The Taliban have been able to increase their financial income in recent years. The Taliban's financial independence will guarantee military independence and reduce the group's foreign dependence. Meanwhile, with the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban to the balance of power in Kabul, the role of this group will be further strengthened. Pakistan appears to be resisting US, Russia, India and Iran efforts to curb Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan and will support the willingness of other powers to cooperate more with the Taliban.


Although many Pakistani Islamist groups and parties do not support the continuation of the republican system in Afghanistan and find the relationship between the Taliban and the Pakistani government useful, continuing Islamabad's previous experience of supporting the Taliban had cost it very much. Pakistan is trying to present itself as an active player in Afghanistan, if it used to seek foreign aid and maintain its position by strengthening the Taliban and supporting terrorism; it is now seeking to introduce itself as a peace supporter.

Therefore, at the diplomatic and declarative level, support for the establishment of stability in Afghanistan (of course, in accordance with the interests of Pakistan) does not accept the return of the Islamic Emirate by force in Afghanistan. From this point of view, in fact, with the Taliban gaining all power, they will be unstoppable and the ideas of the Pashtunistan issue and the Durand Line will be revived. Relying solely on the Taliban will also key the process of Talibanization in Pakistan.

By the possible complete defeat of the Taliban and the complete seizure of power by the opposition in Afghanistan, the issue of Durand and revenge against Pakistan will also be raised.  Therefore, Pakistan is also consulting with Afghanistan's neighbors on peace in the country and simultaneously conducting diplomacy for the global acceptance of the Taliban. Islamabad also does it want the Taliban to be unilaterally recognized as Afghanistan's new government. Pakistan is looking forward to the Taliban to take effective action against the Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP), respect the rights of women and minorities, prevent drug and arms trafficking, to prevent waging civil war and to form a coalition government or interim government in Afghanistan.

In fact, the participation of the Taliban and Afghanistan's political leaders in the structure of a new transitional government in Afghanistan, and the political balance in Afghanistan's future government will be in Islamabad's favor. Because, the full control of factions and balance in Afghanistan's foreign policy can provide Pakistan with strategic depth in Afghanistan.

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