The growth of the extremist menace in Pakistan and its apparent close cooperation with the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network has made Islamabad reassess the Afghan Islamist movement it once favored.
Aftab Sherpao, a former Pakistani interior minister, said, “Pakistan doesn’t want a totally Taliban government. They want an all-inclusive government. If that doesn’t happen, there will be trouble.”
Pakistan wants not only the Taliban to be enticed back to Afghanistan, but also for the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees it’s accommodated since the 1980s to go home. Around 3 million Afghans live in Pakistan, of whom about 1.7 million are registered, the largest such displaced population in the world.
Pakistan also is concerned about the trends it sees in Afghanistan: a deteriorating security environment, an economy that’s drying up and deep internal political divisions. If that downward spiral continues, millions more refugees might flood into Pakistan, rather than those already there returning home, officials fear. Worse, chaos across the border would provide a sanctuary for Pakistani extremists. Pakistani militants already are using the eastern Afghan provinces of Nuristan and Kunar to stage attacks in Pakistan.
So a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, not a rerun of the 1990s Taliban-run Afghanistan, is in the interests of Pakistan.
“Afghanistan is nobody’s strategic depth,” a Pakistani official said, referring to the old Pakistani military doctrine that wanted to keep Afghanistan as a client state. “Everybody has tried to determine Afghanistan’s future and failed.”
So far, the Taliban haven’t agreed even to consider talks with the regime of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, seeing its officials as “puppets.” Instead, it wants talks with the United States. A lot of persuasion will be needed to get them to start a dialogue with Kabul, the Pakistani official said.
Pakistan, he added, can only “try to persuade them to come to the table.”
“We cannot force them,” he said.