Pakistani militant groups are also hiding in Afghanistan and are said to have joined hands with ISIS-Khorasan. Taken together, all these groups pose a transnational border threat to regional countries like China, Iran and Central Asian states. There are powerful countries which don’t share a border with Afghanistan, but nevertheless do perceive a threat from what’s going on inside Afghanistan. These countries include the United States, India and Russia to name a few. Afghanistan is still without a proper functioning state which can perform essential functions of a nation-state such as running a coherent foreign policy.
After the American withdrawal, our foreign policy establishment has simply failed to create a distinction between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan as a nation-state. We have failed to tell the world that even if we acknowledge that we have had good relations with the Afghan Taliban, this doesn’t mean that we and the Taliban are one.
Besides, none of the countries in the international system recognize the Afghan Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Therefore, sharing concerns with the Afghan Taliban on a regular basis is out of the question. The Americans and Russians have been sharing their concerns with Afghanistan on an irregular basis. Therefore, the burden of responsibility falls on Pakistan’s shoulders for two reasons. Pakistan has a functioning state, which is regularly performing its essential function such as maintaining internal security and running foreign policy. Secondly, the world perceives Pakistan’s security establishment to be close partners of the Afghan Taliban for all the assistance that Pakistani intelligence and military have provided to the Afghan Taliban over the years. So, in an extremely twisted manner, Afghanistan and what’s happening inside it becomes Pakistan’s responsibility as a foreign policy issue. It is unfair to blame everything on Pakistan. But that’s how the world works.
Last week, a Biden-Modi joint statement issued from White House in Washington, called on Pakistan to take immediate action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for launching terrorist attacks. “President Biden and Prime Minister Modi reiterated the call for concerted action against all UN-listed terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizbul Mujahideen,” the joint statement had said. Al-Qaeda and ISIS/Daesh are operating from Afghanistan. Of course, they have an organizational base in Pakistan. But they also have an organizational base in Indian territory with indigenous membership. But nobody is asking India not to allow Da’esh or Al-Qaida to use any territory under its control for terrorist attacks across international borders in other regional countries. The number of attacks Al-Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan have carried out against the Pakistani state and society are patently higher than the damage these two organizations have caused to Indian society and state.
Yet, we are being blamed and held responsible for what Al-Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan have been doing in the region without anyone realizing that Pakistan is the primary victim of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, not their backer. The shape in which the international community finds Afghanistan has not been formed in a day or two. It took forty years of civil war, foreign military interventions and machinations of intelligence agencies of powerful states to make Afghanistan a hub of international terror groups. Pakistan has always been a small player given its limited resource base and its minor status in the international system. Yet the chaos created at our doorsteps by players from far off lands is becoming a security and foreign policy nightmare for the Pakistani state.
The problem is that if we are cooperating with the international community and Washington in counter terrorism efforts, then why does the Pakistan state still carry the stigma of being a backer of the Afghan Taliban and is being held responsible for what Daesh and Al-Qaida are doing in the South Asian region?
Our foreign policy orientation is primarily to blame for all our troubles. Immediately after the Biden-Modi joint statement, the US deputy chief of mission was called to the Foreign Ministry and a demarche was made to him regarding the joint statement issued on June 22. The US diplomat was informed of Pakistan's concerns and disappointment at the statement. Reportedly, the US diplomat was reminded that counterterrorism cooperation between Pakistan and the US had been progressing well and that an enabling environment, centered around trust and understanding, was imperative to further solidifying bilateral ties.
The problem is that if we are cooperating with the international community and Washington in counter terrorism efforts, then why does the Pakistan state still carry the stigma of being a backer of the Afghan Taliban and is being held responsible for what Daesh and Al-Qaida are doing in the South Asian region? Why doesn't the world listen to us on this count? We as a society suffer more than anyone else at the hands of international terrorism and yet we are blamed for terrorist attacks carried out by terror groups. Why has the world been so unfair to us?
We should not expect any positive overtures from India, as the BJP government’s foreign policy narrative is based almost entirely on anti-Pakistan themes. But what about the United States and other western nations, with which we have been cooperating significantly? I think our foreign policy makers and our security establishment is partially to blame for these unfavorable circumstances in which the Pakistan state finds itself.
Firstly, after the American withdrawal, our foreign policy establishment has simply failed to create a distinction between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan as a nation-state. We have failed to tell the world that even if we acknowledge that we have had good relations with the Afghan Taliban, this doesn’t mean that we and the Taliban are one. Our material assistance to the Afghan Taliban is meager when compared with what Russians and Iranians have been providing them in their fight against American forces before the American withdrawal. Yet nobody asks Iran and Russia to take responsibility for what the Afghan Taliban are doing.
In foreign policy, perceptions are more relevant than reality. Therefore, any terror attack in any regional country could have horrendous foreign policy implications for Pakistan.
Our foreign policy handling and our image building is based on foolishly constructed perceptions. Let me give you an example. The then DG ISI, Lt General Faiz Hameed landed in Kabul within a few weeks of the Taliban takeover and told a western journalist on camera, “Everything will be alright soon.” This is how optics are created. A senior government official euphorically telling the world, apparently on behalf of the newly formed Afghan Taliban government, that everything will be alright. This is how the image of Pakistan and Taliban being one actor was created. And we are still suffering on the foreign policy front.
In foreign policy, perceptions are more relevant than reality. Therefore, any terror attack in any regional country could have horrendous foreign policy implications for Pakistan. Al-Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan are busy intensifying their networks in the region. Their reach extends to the Indian mainland and Indian administered Kashmir. Any attack in India could lead to a regional military crisis, which could prove very costly for Pakistan. Secondly, other regional countries like Iran, China and Russia are equally concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and regularly convey their concerns to the Pakistani government.
In the first week of June, the Chinese foreign ministry announced that it hosted Pakistani and Iranian officials in Beijing for a trilateral consultations on counter terrorism in the region, “Director-General Bai Tian of the Department of External Security of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs held in Beijing the first meeting of the China-Pakistan-Iran trilateral consultation on counter-terrorism and security at directors general level with Seyed Rasoul Mosavi, Assistant to the Foreign Minister and Director General of South Asia of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Abdul Hameed, Director General on Counter Terrorism of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
“China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong met with the Pakistani and Iranian heads of delegation. The three sides held an in-depth exchange of views on the regional counter-terrorism situation and joint efforts to tackle the cross-border movement of terrorists, among other issues, and decided to institutionalize the trilateral consultation on counter-terrorism and security. The meeting was a successful step taken by the three countries to act on the Global Security Initiative and enhance regional security and stability,” reads a statement of the Chinese foreign ministry. The Russians are too eager to convey their concerns over ISIS-Khorasan’s activities in Northern Afghanistan. Russia, China and Iran are, however, less hostile towards the Afghan Taliban and have expressed their willingness to work with them against extremist Sunni groups which are emerging in Afghanistan. Understandably, it would not be wise for Pakistan to annoy a government in Kabul which is in control of Afghan territory and its state machinery. But at least we can start conveying to the world that we are not one.