Significant political developments are occurring between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite their localized nature, and lack of global attention, they have significant implications for global affairs, regional security, and the international system. These developments demonstrate that there is still some room for influence from diplomacy and economic pressure on the government of the unacknowledged Islamic Emirate. This is particularly the case when it is executed by the primary mentors, funders, and initiators of the rural Pashtun movement, which has grown into a political and military power on a national and regional scale. Previously, I wrote in detail about the conflict that occurred between the Taliban regime and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan concerning its military apparatus. There are now two events worth paying attention to that demonstrate some of these circumstances. First, there has been a limited evolution of rationality within the Taliban. Second, the Pakistani military establishment continues to rely heavily on the radical movement and the unacknowledged Emirate. There are also two conditional factions within the Taliban that are vying behind closed doors to determine what the Afghan state’s future goal would be.
In the middle of December, Afghanistan’s Taliban government announced for the first time since returning to power in 2021 that it had arrested Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Taliban (TT). It was the first time that two allied groups with a common radical Islamist ideology and practice of terrorism took action against each other. “Currently, there are no militant groups operating in Afghanistan. We have a large number of Daesh (ISIS) prisoners, and about 35 to 40 TTPs are being held by us. We have a duty to ensure the security of the country. Anyone who interferes with that, we will recognize them as criminals, arrest them, and not tolerate them,” said the spokesman, Abdul Mateen Qaani of the Ministry of Interim Affairs. The Taliban representative said that they “want good relations with neighboring countries and will never allow Afghanistan’s territory to be used against other countries including neighboring countries.”
The second event shows some rationality and a desire to avoid conflict inside the Taliban. At the same time, it demonstrates the deep dependence on military elites and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. The leadership of the Taliban invited a highly influential Islamic scholar from the Deobandi fundamentalist network with close ties to ISI. The unrecognized Islamic Emirate said Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman was invited to Afghanistan to resolve the current issue between Kabul and Islamabad. A myth, which is occasionally conveyed through propaganda, holds that Pakistan is at odds with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan or that the nation is unstable. “We are able to react, and the Maulana has the character to convey our message and goals to Pakistan,” said Islamic Emirate Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid.
Fazlur Rehman and many other Islamic scholars from the Deobandi School have long pressured the government of Pakistan to recognize the Taliban authority in Afghanistan. Rehman is the leader of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, the biggest coalition of opposition parties in the nation, and one of the most influential clerics in Pakistan. He has a sizable fan base in Pakistan and is well known in both the political and religious spheres of the nation. More than 20,000 of the 35,000 Pakistani Islamic religious schools are affiliated with the Deobandi school of thought that strongly emphasizes the authority of Islamic law. Both Rehman and the Taliban adhere to the Deobandi doctrine.
The conflict between the Taliban and Pakistan began several months ago. Islamabad accused the Taliban of supporting the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP), which actively fought against the Pakistani state. After the victory of the Taliban and the reincarnation of the Emirate in 2021, terrorist activity in South Asia and Pakistan in particular has increased significantly. The reason for this can be seen in the Taliban’s passive support for Islamist radicals and the provision of Afghan territory as a safe haven for radicals. The Pakistani government responded by imposing certain sanctions on the export of Afghan products and put into motion the process of expelling Afghan refugees. These actions have a significant potential of harming the position of the Taliban and the economy of Afghanistan. There are currently more than 2 million undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan, at least 600,000 of whom arrived after the Taliban returned to power in August 2021. “We believe that many of those facing deportation would be at serious risk of human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and cruel and inhumane treatment if returned to Afghanistan,” the UN spokeswoman said. According to the international organization, civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders, former government officials, and members of the security forces, as well as all women and girls, may be particularly at risk. In addition, Islamabad needs normalization of the conflict situation for internal political reasons. Parliamentary elections are due to take place in the country in which the leading party and prime and Prime Minister will be chosen.
Finally, the dynamics between the Taliban and the Pakistani military have important implications for the region and the potential of radical Islamist groups. Reducing the Taliban’s dependence on the Pakistani military could be an important step towards rationalizing the Afghan state and reducing the Taliban’s potential for aggression. At the same time, Pakistan can play an important role in reducing the ambitions of the most radical factions within the Taliban. Events show that the Taliban’s dependence is still extremely high, and the future of the Afghan economy lies in the hands of Pakistani politicians. Consequently, the optimal event would be to strengthen the positions of the most moderate factions within the Taliban and strive to build a more rational bureaucratic state.