The upcoming visit of a Taliban delegation to Pakistan illustrates Islamabad and Kabul’s willingness to engage despite their security differences.
In February, a high-level Pakistani delegation visited Afghanistan and warned the Taliban regime of the consequences of not addressing Pakistan’s concerns about the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Pakistan made it clear to the Taliban regime that it should forget global recognition unless it takes action against groups like the TTP.
In this regard, another tool that Islamabad is using to get Kabul to heed its demands to act against the TTP is to leverage U.S. and Western allies’ concerns over the TTP. Several Western nations now endorse Islamabad’s view that the TTP poses a major threat not just to Pakistan but also to their own security.
However, reports indicate that the Taliban leadership was not willing to comply with Pakistan’s demands. Instead, they presented their suggestions to address the issue, which included moving TTP fighters away from the border areas with Pakistan. They also asked Pakistan to pay for the relocation of TTP fighters, which was not acceptable to Pakistan.
A well-informed source in Pakistan’s interior ministry told The Diplomat that complying with the Taliban’s demand of “paying for TTP fighters’ relocation is nothing less than paying a ransom.” “It offers no long-term solution but is simply another way to ask for temporary peace,” the source pointed out.
As I wrote in a previous article in The Diplomat, Pakistan is in no mood for another ceasefire with the TTP and the country wants to see an end to the militant outfits’ sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is confident that its warnings and offer of cooperation with the Taliban will be fruitful to some degree. The regime in Kabul is keen to ensure that political and security concerns do not affect economic relations between the two countries. Achieving deeper economic ties with Kabul is a priority for Pakistan as well but the country first needs some cooperation over TTP-related issues.
The first major test for the Taliban in this regard is nearing as the TTP has announced preparations to launch a spring offensive against the Pakistani security forces. Interestingly, Pakistan made public the visit of the Taliban to Pakistan ahead of the TTP announcement of its spring offensive, which is likely to start later this month. With the announcement, Pakistan wants the Afghan Taliban to know that Islamabad remains ready to lobby for Afghanistan’s concerns internationally if the Taliban regime acts on its security concerns seriously.
This leaves the Taliban regime in a very tricky situation. If the TTP launches its spring offensive while the group’s patrons are preparing to travel to Islamabad, it would mean that the Taliban are not serious about cooperating with Islamabad on the issue. However, if the TTP cancels its offensive, this would mean that Pakistan’s warning to the Taliban regime had an effect.
For the Taliban, this is another opportunity for it to make a case for the much sought-after global recognition. The Taliban visit to Pakistan will see both sides making new commitments over trade, travel, and border security issues if Kabul can force the TTP to call off its upcoming offensive. Moreover, the visit is an opportunity for the group to find a way to work with Pakistan to tackle the common threat posed by the Islamic State.
It seems that Pakistan’s new approach is focused on trying to engage the Taliban leadership boldly on the issue of the TTP while offering its cooperation on other matters of mutual interest.
It remains to be seen if the new approach will have the desired effect.
Its carrot-and-stick approach seems the right method as mere pressure on the Taliban regime is not likely to work at a time when the group is internally divided over the TTP issue. Perhaps, keeping up the pressure while also offering cooperation at multiple levels to push for a change in Taliban policy will bring dividends in the months to come.