With the economy facing considerable headwinds, the last thing Pakistan needs is a deterioration in security environment. Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, there has been a sharp increase in terrorism incidents in the country, especially in major cities. In a change of tactics, militants have been targeting the police and security forces themselves. It is paramount to preserve the morale of law and order personnel.
As officials publicly confirm that mischief is being directed from other side of the Pak-Afghan border, voices are now growing louder inside Pakistan to confront the Taliban government to do something about it. There is little sympathy (if not schadenfreude) for Pakistan’s predicament in Western capitals. The US and its allies faced ignominious exit from Afghanistan last year – they feel it is Pakistan’s mess to fix now.
Over the past six months, Pakistan’s economy has provided the necessary means of rescuing the Taliban economy from a complete collapse. Pakistan wasted no time in opening up a donors-led humanitarian corridor to channel food, medical and other essential supplies to the war-torn country. Pakistan also swallowed the local difficulties that arose out of smuggling of food supplies and US dollars to Afghanistan.
In the face of growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Pakistan has also been vocal at international forums, urging global powers to engage with the new regime in Kabul. International development agencies, including those under the UN, have also urged the same. It was partly the result of such diplomacy that the US Treasury started granting third-party waivers to NGOs to engage with the Taliban.
Liquidity situation in Afghanistan is expected to improve after the US Treasury last week allowed international banks to resume money-transfer services for direct humanitarian purposes, besides authorizing NGOs to pay doctors, nurses and teachers employed in public-sector hospitals and schools. The UN last month launched $5 billion funding appeal for Afghanistan in 2022. Above-mentioned waivers are crucial to unlock some of that funding, as they remove some of the prohibitions on financial dealings.
While these positive developments may take some of the economic pressure off Pakistan, they have the potential to go the opposite way for its security. An emboldened Taliban regime is expected to make demands of Pakistan, including regime recognition, border-fencing and more appeasement towards the TTP. Meanwhile, just as the rest of the world, Pakistan is yet to officially recognize the Taliban rule, recent high-level bilateral visits notwithstanding. Recent events have developed misgivings about each other.
The policy options do not look easy for Pakistan. At one end of the spectrum is ‘accommodation’ of Taliban demands – but it would be mistakenly assuming that the latter has the capacity to rein in the TTP and its affiliates. At the other end lies ‘confrontation’ – but going down this path would be like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. In the middle somewhere lies the option of active ‘engagement’ – the art of tough-minded, no-nonsense diplomacy to secure the homeland from foreign threats.