Pakistan confident of keeping extremism in check but fears remain

Staff Reporter BOL News

11th Sep, 2021. 04:16 pm

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban victory in Afghanistan is being widely hailed by the Pakistanis, but security officials remain wary that the developments on its northwestern frontier might “inspire” extremists and radical Islamists in the country.

“We have controlled the genie of extremism after a lot of sacrifices and efforts,” a top security official said in a background briefing. “There is always a fear that the local copycats may try to interpret developments in Afghanistan out of context and resort to acts of violence and terrorism.”

While security officials from Karachi to Khyber are keeping a close eye on the movement of Afghan refugees as well as keeping a tab on the local radical and militant activists, there are growing fears of sporadic incidents of violence and terrorism in major cities. “The homegrown challenge is there, but hostile powers like India would also want to exploit the situation. Therefore, we have to be extra careful and vigilant,” said another security official.

Veteran journalist and author, Zahid Hussain, while talking to BOL News said that the Taliban rule in Kabul is likely to boost Islamic militants and other right-wing groups in Pakistan.

“It is ominous for Pakistan… this may turn the country into a battleground for al-Qaeda and Daesh-linked groups that have a presence along the Pakistani border as well as sanctuaries within the country,” he said.

But there are analysts, particularly linked to the military, who tend to disagree.

“I don’t think that the Taliban victory in Afghanistan poses any challenge for Pakistan,” said security expert, Brig. (Retired) Harris Nawaz. “Firstly, there is no parallel between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have no foreign occupation force, we have a strong army and government, and above all we already have an Islamic Constitution… Minor challenges from a handful of misguided elements or those sponsored by hostile countries can be managed. And we have already proven this to the world.”

Afghanistan’s Islamic Emirate  

Earlier this week, the Afghan Taliban announced their interim government which comprises all the war-hardened commanders and leaders, who played a vital role in defeating the US-led NATO forces in their country. Before this development, the Taliban had already announced reviving their Emirate which was ousted by the US-led forces in the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the American soil.

Western media is claiming that some of the names in the Taliban government belong to the alleged al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, and that nearly half of them are still under the UN sanctions, including Mullah Hasan Akhund, the head of the caretaker cabinet.

Many developing countries, including Pakistan, are also supporting the west-led demand of an inclusive government apparently aimed at providing safety and economic prospects to Afghan citizens, and open the doors for humanitarian aid.

Many Western powers, though, believe Pakistan has influence over the Taliban, which means they will look up to it for any developments that affect their interests.

But Brig Nawaz said that Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban is being exaggerated by the West so that eventually they can make it the scapegoat for their failures in Afghanistan.

Zahid Hussain, says that the situation remains fluid, and a lot will depend on the extent to which Taliban are willing to shed what he called their “obscurantist authoritarian avatar of the past.”

Although there has not been any rush of refugees on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, there remains a threat of another round of refugee influx in the coming months and years, if Afghanistan embraces a new cycle of civil war.

Speculations about the new Great Game

Former head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and ex-Senator, Afrasiab Khattak, said that the United States pulled out of Afghanistan in a “suspicious” manner and handed the seat of power to Taliban virtually on a platter.

The former leftist leader said that these events may be the harbinger of a new great game aimed at curtailing the rise of China as an economic power, and hurt the Russian and Iranian interests in Central Asia. “If this happens, Pakistan cannot avoid being caught in the middle of it,” he said.

“The fact that the Doha agreement did not provide for a framework of democracy, peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan compels one to suspect that the US has tried to legitimise the Taliban and incentivise terrorism,” he alleged.

Khattak believes that when the US attacked Afghanistan in 2001, it wasn’t because they were opposed to the Taliban, but because they had to do something in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. They easily shifted their focus away from Afghanistan in 2003 when they decided to move into Iraq, he said.

Some analysts say that many in the tiny Westernized liberal elite of Pakistan and Afghanistan were banking a lot on the United States and its allies and they never wanted the occupation forces to leave.  

Brig Nawaz said that many of the Afghan collaborators of the US-led forces and their handful of Pakistani allies did want Westernization of Afghanistan and change imposed from the outside. Such element also tried to malign Pakistan and held it responsible for supporting Taliban’s victory, he said.  

Khattak claimed that the American decision to pull out of Afghanistan came as a result of the severe economic depression that hit the Western world in 2008, and by 2012 the then Obama administration had already finalised a drawdown plan, envisaging a complete pullout from Afghanistan by 2016.

Second thoughts over this plan within the US establishment appear to have begun in late 2013 when China revealed its Belt & Road initiative (B&R), and solidified as the Chinese investments to this effect started to become more visible across South and Central Asia, said Khattak.

He says the Americans may well have decided to put the Taliban in-charge of a financially ruined state so they could then use billions of dollars’ worth of Afghan aid frozen in the US treasury as a leverage to use them against the Chinese, Russian and Iranian interests in Xinjiang and Central Asia.

However, China appears to enjoy close relations with the Afghan Taliban and is among the first few countries to present them an olive branch as well as millions of dollars of aid which is likely to increase in the future.

Khattak further claimed that this is obviously going to have implications for Pakistan, which some quarters in the US administration have recently threatened to be declared a “pariah state” if its ruling establishment doesn’t stop “its support for the jihadi groups.” In the worst-case scenario, there may be a plan to trigger the implosion of an already impoverished Pakistani state by flooding it with refugees and the spread of Islamist terrorism, he said.

But Pakistan has repeatedly brushed aside such allegations and says that it paid the highest price compared to any other country while fighting violent non-state actors.

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