Gains seen for Taliban as post-ISAF era looms in Afghanistan
(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)
A fear embedded deep in the Pakistani security establishment’s psyche has always been that of a successful conventional military thrust by India from across its eastern borders. This is aggravated by their assessment that Pakistan lacks the geographical depth to absorb the onslaught; its logistics dumps being especially vulnerable on account of the inability to place them at an adequate depth. The answer, often articulated, is of a pliant regime in its western neighbour Afghanistan providing the strategic geographical depth that Pakistan needs.
With a state of flux anticipated in Afghanistan as a fallout of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) impending withdrawal, an important imperative for Pakistan is to ensure Kabul is controlled by a regime amenable and dependent on Islamabad.
However, the chances of orchestrating such a situation remain improbable when viewed in the context of possible scenarios that could be encountered in Afghanistan.
In the first scenario, should the current dispensation in Afghanistan survive the onslaught of the Taliban, the possibility of the regime being a Pakistani surrogate is debatable.
Given the backdrop of their sharp differences and Pakistan continually backing the Afghan Taliban in its attacks on the Kabul regime, even if an understanding is reached, it is unlikely to be durable enough to sustain the illusion of strategic depth. The fact of India enjoying a far more reliable status in Kabul negates the concept further. In fact, a sound Indo-Afghan relationship only initiates another complementary threat perception in Pakistan, that of being sandwiched between two inimical states sharing a proximate relationship.
Even in a situation where the Taliban is able to subjugate Kabul with Pakistani help, the Taliban is unlikely to be as malleable as it was when it ruled Kabul before the U.S. forces evicted them. Notwithstanding the support they have received from the Pakistani Army and ISI, they would want to have greater autonomy. It’s better organised today, and with threat levels reducing on ISAF’s withdrawal, will not be as dependent on Pakistan, as it is now.
Should circumstance lead to ethnic fault lines in Afghanistan dilating and the country splintering between its major ethnic groups, the idea of Afghanistan serving the purpose of providing strategic depth again becomes an elusive objective. Even if Pakistan backs one or more contestants in order to make itself more relevant and a beneficiary, at best, an unstable Afghanistan can be visualised with warring militias dotting the landscape providing no succour to any one’s hopes or aspirations.
The best gainers, in all likelihood, would be Taliban that could garner greater strategic depth for operations and logistics; hiding and training areas. Notwithstanding the hopes harboured of the Taliban reforming to be a responsible actor and sharing power with the regime in Kabul, the likelihood of Afghanistan becoming worldwide jihad’s global oasis is far more probable.
Mullah Omar would waltz with al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the ilk. The huge potential of the narcotics trade could also be harmonised to enhance global jihad’s strategic reach. Instead of Afghanistan proving to be Pakistan’s strategic depth, Afghan Taliban could join its Pakistani partners, turn the guns around, take advantage of the tenuous situation in Pakistan and entrench themselves more firmly on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line.