Fast-paced withdrawal of troops could undermine Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan

Web DeskWeb Editor

01st Jul, 2021. 04:14 pm

The fast-paced withdrawal of foreign troops amid stalled peace talks and rising incidents of violence in Afghanistan could threaten to undermine Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate Taliban’s return to Kabul through power-sharing arrangements that have international backing, a report by the International Crisis Group said.

The report compiled by the think-tank with information received from Islamabad, Washington and Brussels states that if the Afghan peace process continues to sputter or altogether fails, Islamabad’s relations with Kabul and Washington could sour.

It also said that further instability or Taliban gains in Afghanistan could embolden Pakistani militants aligned with their Afghan counterparts, deepening insecurity in Pakistan, especially in its tribal areas along the Afghan border.

Furthermore, an unravelling Afghanistan could embolden Pakistani militant groups, particularly the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and threaten yet another massive influx of Afghan refugees.

As foreign soldiers leave, the report states that Islamabad faces renewed pressure from Kabul and Washington to convince the Taliban at the very least to reduce violence to ensure that negotiations continue.

“Pakistan’s clout with the insurgents has declined as they continue to make military gains in Afghanistan. That influence has far from dissipated. Taliban commanders in Afghanistan may dispute but will still follow their leadership’s instructions,” it said.

The report added that Pakistan’s leverage has likely declined, as the Taliban gain ground militarily, but it remains significant.

Quoting a senior former security official the report said: “Pakistan’s mentor relationship with the Taliban has weakened,” adding that despite this Pakistani authorities, particularly the military and its intelligence arm, retain considerable influence.

Another expert with extensive knowledge of the relationship said Pakistan’s influence has changed, rather than diminished.

The report said that Pakistan has so far managed to cajole the Taliban to occasionally join talks and to demonstrate interest in a peace process without turning the screws on the leadership and risking a breach in the relationship.

“In light of the US and NATO withdrawal, the time may be fast approaching when push comes to shove and Pakistan no longer can balance pursuing its preference for a negotiated settlement with its preference for a moderated approach to pressuring the Taliban,” it suggested.

The report underscored that if the Afghan conflict continues, Pakistan, sitting right next door, stands to lose more than any country but Afghanistan itself.

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