Op-ed: Pakistan’s perspective on the evolving situation in Afghanistan

Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry shares his views on the developments in Afghanistan and the role of the international community since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

Since the Taliban took over Kabul and established their writ on the entire country, the situation in Afghanistan has been evolving, and is still far from settled. The speed with which the Ashraf Ghani government collapsed and the Afghan National Army melted away surprised everyone. For decades, the people of Afghanistan have yearned for peace in their country. While the violence in the country has decreased and political stability has been restored, the Afghans continue to see devastating attacks, not only against the Hazara population but also and especially against human rights activists, particularly in recent weeks and months. The peace appears to be an uneasy one. There are political and legal questions weighing heavy on the governance of Afghanistan. Every country is engaging with the Taliban as a de facto government of Afghanistan, but for de jure recognition, no country has stepped forward. On the economic side, the situation is particularly grim. Because of restrictions on banking services imposed by UN Security Council resolution 1267 (1999) and subsequent resolutions, economic activity is far from normal.

Most disconcerting is the humanitarian crisis, which is in its full swing as we speak, and becoming more acute by the day. Afghanistan is desperately in need of international and regional help. However, with the Ukraine war occupying headlines, there is decreasing international attention on Afghanistan. The government of Pakistan did organize an extraordinary session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December 2021, with one agenda item being how the Muslim world could help Afghanistan address its humanitarian situation. A few months later, in March 2022, Pakistan organized another conference of the OIC foreign ministers, which discussed, inter alia, the overall situation in Afghanistan. Regrettably, very few pledges were made to help mitigate the impending economic and humanitarian disaster there.

A question arises: Is the international community abandoning Afghanistan? If so, this would be a fatal mistake. First, the people of Afghanistan have suffered so much from foreign interventions and war against terrorism that they are yearning for peace. Second, if the country is destabilized again, there would be huge consequences for the peace and stability of not only the region but the entire world. It is, therefore, expected that the world will not abandon Afghanistan, and instead must step forward to help the country in the larger interest of regional and global peace. The US and Europe need to constructively engage with the Taliban, because a consistently coercive economic approach could plunge the country back into civil war. The terrorist organizations would have a field day and could have an opportunity to take root again in Afghanistan. Delisting of the Taliban from the UN sanctions list should also be seriously considered, to give them access to the necessary resources to prevent the resurgence of terrorist entities proscribed by the United Nations.

The neighbours of Afghanistan and other regional countries, too, bear a responsibility to provide the necessary support to enable the Taliban to stabilize the situation and bring a sense of lasting peace to the war-torn country. The good news is that the regional countries are coordinating closely with each other, especially with regards to humanitarian assistance. However, that may not be enough. The Taliban regime needs technical and financial support to effectively run the government and stabilize the situation.

For its part, the Taliban government needs to honour the commitments it made in its agreement with the US in February 2020, including the formation of an inclusive government, respecting the human rights of all Afghans, especially those of women and minorities, and not allowing the soil of Afghanistan to be used by terrorist entities. That said, the Taliban must be enabled to fulfil their commitments. Here, there is a dilemma: If the Taliban are economically coerced, their capacity to honour their commitments, including on counter-terrorism, would be undermined. On the other hand, if the Taliban are incentivized, those opposed to the Taliban and their philosophy readily protest. 

The point here is that if the Taliban regime does not receive the support of the US, Europe, and regional countries, it will become destabilized, and the terrorist forces are likely to regain ground in Afghanistan, posing a serious danger to the peace and stability of the region and indeed the whole world.

The world must, therefore, develop a consensus that a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is the best option for the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, other neighbours, the region, and the world.

For its part, Pakistan is doing all that it can, including the promotion of people-to-people movement across the border with Afghanistan, facilitation of trade and transit trade, better border management, and countering terrorist elements. A peaceful Afghanistan is a strategic imperative for the region and the world. The alternative is chaos, which is a lose-lose option for all. This imperative must be recognized to make the world, and especially the countries of the region, more secure and peaceful.

Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry is Director General at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). Ambassador Chaudhry has served as a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan for 37 years, rising to the rank of foreign secretary from December 2013 to March 2017. His last diplomatic assignment was as Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States of America. He also served as Ambassador of Pakistan to the Netherlands, Foreign Office Spokesman, and deputy permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York. Now retired from the foreign service, Chaudhry has been serving in his current post with the ISSI since June 2018. He holds a Master’s in International Relations from Tufts University, Massachusetts, and a first-class Bachelor of Science from Punjab University, Lahore.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of FES.

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