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Pakistan may soon regret its victory in Afghanistan

Last weekend, the Pakistani spy chief Faiz Hameed had tea in the Serena Hotel in Kabul when he was mediating between the ruling Taliban factions that were fighting over shares of power in the next Afghan government. "Everything will be fine," he said about the future of Afghanistan. A few days later, a number of men were appointed to high office, all of which had been protected by the Pakistani state for nearly two decades, while Pakistan denied it.

When Hameed helped select terrorists-designate as the country's leaders, he cared little about what the West would think of him. Instead, he marched around Kabul, exuding the confidence of a winner. He and his colleagues pat themselves on the back for displacing India – one of the leading allies of the recently ousted Afghan government – and creating a customer state of their own in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's deep state has indeed secured the much-desired strategic reach against India and will almost certainly use Afghan territory as a safe haven for anti-Indian terrorist groups, as it did the last time the Taliban were in power. Pakistan has also proven itself as a mediator and security guarantor vis-à-vis the Chinese. Beijing plans to mine minerals in the war-torn country and spend billions of dollars building an economic corridor that will lead through Pakistan and Afghanistan to Central Asia.

Last weekend, the Pakistani spy chief Faiz Hameed had tea in the Serena Hotel in Kabul when he was mediating between the ruling Taliban factions that were fighting over shares of power in the next Afghan government. "Everything will be fine," he said about the future of Afghanistan. A few days later, a number of men were appointed to high office, all of which had been protected by the Pakistani state for nearly two decades, while Pakistan denied it.

When Hameed helped select terrorists-designate as the country's leaders, he cared little about what the West would think of him. Instead, he marched around Kabul, exuding the confidence of a winner. He and his colleagues pat themselves on the back for displacing India – one of the leading allies of the recently ousted Afghan government – and creating a customer state of their own in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's deep state has indeed secured the much-desired strategic reach against India and will almost certainly use Afghan territory as a safe haven for anti-Indian terrorist groups, as it did the last time the Taliban were in power. Pakistan has also proven itself as a mediator and security guarantor vis-à-vis the Chinese. Beijing plans to mine minerals in the war-torn country and spend billions of dollars building an economic corridor that will lead through Pakistan and Afghanistan to Central Asia.

But what counts as an achievement for the Pakistani political establishment may prove to be a tragedy for the Pakistani people. There are growing reasons to worry about the security setback caused by an Islamic emirate next door. Meanwhile, the voices of those calling for the establishment of comprehensive Sharia rule in Pakistan in imitation of the Taliban are growing louder.

Decades of active Islamization has led large numbers of Pakistanis to adopt a more religious attitude and changed the social mores of a culturally diverse society. As the Taliban unleash their own Islamism in Afghanistan, it is inevitable that Pakistan will also become more radical.

Amir Rana, a Pakistani security analyst, said that fighting narratives that propagate a more religious state and society could prove difficult as more Pakistanis take inspiration from the Taliban. "The Taliban will be the only source of inspiration for confused Pakistani youth," he said. “Religious festivals are already celebrating. It will continue to Talibanize Pakistan. The increasing popularity of the Taliban will also unsettle other (non-Sunni) sects. These tensions can exacerbate sectarian tensions ”and make society as a whole more intolerant.

The Taliban could well be an asset to Pakistan's political establishment in its anti-India efforts, but it is doubtful that the strategic benefits will go much further. According to a Pakistani source who wanted to remain anonymous, Pakistan could offer the United States a base to crack down on Islamic State-Khorasan, the terrorist group that last attacked Kabul airport and killed more than a hundred people, including 13 American soldiers. It also tries to present itself as a mediator between the West and the Taliban, as a conversation partner who can encourage the group to reform. But few in the West believe more in Pakistan's promises. Pakistan's refuge for the Taliban has affected its relations with the United States so badly that US President Joe Biden has not called Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan a single time since he replaced Donald Trump.

Furthermore, there are indications that the Taliban may be less subservient to the orders of their main patron, which Pakistan expects, in order to at least maintain the pretext of independence in front of their compatriots. Pakistan is extremely unpopular in Afghanistan and the Taliban are careful not to be seen as their puppets. They are already reluctant to admit Pakistan's core security issues when it comes to ending the support and extradition of anti-Pakistani terrorists. "We are not Pakistani puppets, we are independent," said a Taliban leader Foreign policy from Kabul on condition of anonymity. "And yes, we have very good relations with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan."

The members of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were educated and trained in the same religious seminaries from which the Afghan Taliban emerged. However, this group consisted of Pashtun Islamists. It carried out some of the most horrific attacks against Pakistanis, even killed school children, and was eventually pushed into Afghanistan by Pakistani forces. But last year, when their Afghan contemporaries launched the campaign to retake Afghanistan, TTP attacks picked up again. In the past month alone, it carried out 32 attacks in Pakistan. TTP is evidence of the domestic setback in Pakistani politics, yet independent experts fear that the generals see dead Pakistanis as collateral damage and are reluctant to change their proxy war policy.

According to a current report The Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban, which were being prepared for the United Nations Security Council, "essentially conducted relations as before". UN observers noted that the TTP provided military support to the Afghan Taliban against Afghan government troops when they recently came to power. “The Pakistani state accused the Afghan elected governments of supporting the TTP over the years; In fact, the TTP fought alongside the Afghan Taliban, ”said Afrasiab Khattak, a Pashtun leader and intellectual. "That is an indicator of how wrong a policy of our deep state has been."

Since the Taliban's return to power, the TTP has softened its stance. She now wants autonomy in the tribal areas along the border, the heartland of the Pakistani Pashtuns, which she wants to rule under Islamic law, just like her brothers across the border. The Afghan Taliban have not clarified their position on TTP, but have stated that they wish to open border crossings with Pakistan at least on the 1,640 mile stretch inhabited by Pashtuns on both sides.

Khatak said the whole idea behind backing and assisting the Taliban was to turn Afghanistan into a protectorate with leadership that prioritized its religious identity over its ethnic identity and saw itself as a Muslim rather than an Afghan first. An insecure deep state has been paranoid about losing another part of the country, this time to Pashtun ethnic nationalism since losing East Pakistan to Bangladeshi nationalists in 1971, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

"Pakistan's policy was to use the Taliban to deconstruct Afghan identity and destroy everything that represented Afghanistan," said Khattak. “One of the first things the Taliban did when they came to power in the 1990s was renaming the Afghan radio to Sharia radio, destroying the Buddha statues in Bamiyan, banning the millennia-old Navroj New Year, changing the Afghan flag , and said no to jirgas, which traditionally were popular assemblies at which Afghans discussed political issues. "

During their first term in office, the Taliban suppressed Afghan nationalism and exposed the total and extreme Islamization of Afghanistan. Over the years, she also attacked secular Pashtun nationalists in Pakistan. But over time, the group has also seen the exploitative side of their Pakistani henchmen. The Taliban know that Pakistan has tremendous economic clout in a landlocked Afghanistan, but while establishing themselves in power they may want to use TTP as leverage against their masters, who offered protection but also mistreated many of their leaders.

Even if they eschew a Pashtun separatist identity, this ethnic association will remain a source of consternation for the Pakistani generals. Would Pakistan be prepared to keep the borders open and de facto hand control over to TTP?

Pakistan's liberals will continue to oppose the Talibanization of Pakistan – even though they are now in its weakest position in decades, so it may not matter to the deep state of Pakistan. Nevertheless, the return of the Taliban could also be a Pyrrhic victory for the deep state. The ideas that the Taliban have come up with also constantly gnaw the foundations of the state that they believe they are safeguarding.

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