Last month, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. The drone strike that killed the former head of the Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, has been viewed as an attempt by Washington to repair its broken relationship with Islamabad.
On the other hand, Washington appreciated the role Islamabad played in encouraging a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The temporary ceasefire, which was termed a crucial step for any reconciliation process to succeed in Afghanistan, has failed to begin a new phase of talks among key stakeholders in the region. The violence that exploded after the ceasefire period in Afghanistan has again brought the role of Pakistan to the center of the crisis.
The question is this: If Pakistan can facilitate a ceasefire, why can’t the country influence the Taliban toward reducing their combative activities or accepting a long-term ceasefire?
There are two fundamental reasons which explain why Pakistan is not going to be able to facilitate a long-term ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, let alone ensuring that the conflict ends in the country.
First, Islamabad may have influence over the Afghan Taliban but that influence is inadequate when it comes to forcing the Taliban into changing their organizational combative objectives. One of the key reasons that Pakistan’s doesn’t have enough leverage to compel the Taliban into accepting a long-term ceasefire is due to the latter’s financial and operational independence. It has long been argued that the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is based in Pakistan but it has proven to be a myth when it comes to comprehensive evidence which suggests that all leaders of the group operate from Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban as an organization has evolved over the years and the group’s financial independence and successes in battlefields have only emboldened its militant objectives. The militant organization is active in more than 70 percent of Afghanistan’s territory and the group’s support base and organizational structure have only strengthened over the years. Financially, the group is not dependent on Pakistan or any other country for its survival. The group’s recruits continue to grow while the Afghan military is slowly disintegrating. In this context, if there is some force which can compel the group into joining any peace process, it’s the group’s leadership itself. However, the group is neither losing nor has it shown any fatigue. Expecting Pakistan to force the group into halting its militant activities would be absurd.
Second, even if Pakistan is to become part of any broad course to begin a reconciliation process in Afghanistan, it’s unclear whether Pakistan will strategically support any such process unless its own interests are kept in mind. The Afghan Taliban has never attacked the Pakistani state, and more so, the group has never taken any action against Pakistan’s interests in the region, including Afghanistan. In fact, the Afghan Taliban have been a major factor underpinning Pakistan’s ongoing regional security policy which sees certain states involvement in Afghanistan as a threat to Pakistan’s stability and interests. In Islamabad’s calculus, while the violence which is being caused by the Taliban creates international pressure on Pakistan, the country has not only managed to resist this pressure but has also used it to maintain its relevance. Moreover, for Pakistan to earnestly support the Afghan peace process, the country would have to change its regional security policy, which discourages the role of any stakeholder that Islamabad perceives as unfriendly. The current situation in Afghanistan correlates with Pakistan’s decades-long policy of strengthening the position of the Taliban in an attempt to undermine the role of various regional states, such as India, which Islamabad perceives as a threat. In this environment, it appears unlikely that Islamabad would seek the culmination to the Afghan conflict unless it is certain about the endgame in Afghanistan and its own role in the country’s political future.
Violence and chaos, which have become normal in Afghanistan, have returned after a short ceasefire. An end to the conflict is not coming anytime soon.