The changing geopolitical dynamics of Afghanistan have multilateral roots on various fronts. The peace agreement between the US and Taliban earlier this year marked a historic landmark not only for Afghanistan but for all the regional players that have been involved in the long-standing war in Afghanistan. The biggest causality of this war has been the people of Pakistan. The conflict encompassing decades has scuffled Pakistan on both political and economic grounds. Now with the United States set to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by May 2021, Pakistan is in the process of re-formulating its ties with the war-torn nation.
Pakistan has been an advocate of enduring peace and stability in Afghanistan, which was made clear by its presence in the Doha Agreement signing ceremony between the Afghan Taliban and the United States, asserting its position and the continued role it had played in bringing stability in Afghanistan. The talks between the US and Afghanistan that resulted in the joint agreement were facilitated by Pakistan’s assistance which in turn laid the foundation for a dialogue between Taliban and Afghan leadership.
While Pakistan fully endorses peace settlements between the two factions it is also wary of the outcome that a hasty pull-out might entail. The intra-Afghan dialogue is the most significant factor to be taken into account as the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan. The negotiations that would take place, as a result, would be at a slow pace and might reach numerous deadlocks before coming to a meaningful conclusion. Based on his opinion article, as published by The Washington Post, the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is of the opinion that a swift withdrawal of international forces form Afghanistan may trigger the opposing factions of Afghan leadership and the Taliban to reach an impasse in their peace agreements which might later turn into a military stand-off. This air of prudence is justified on the grounds that there are various regional actors involved, each working to advance their personal geopolitical means.
These remarks come at a time when New Delhi works to solidify its presence in Afghanistan. Previously India marked its profile by contributing to various development projects and providing military training. Now with the changing dynamics with the US all set to withdraw its troops, India can be seen extending its influence to take the place of the US. The Afghan government and India have enjoyed strong ties and have been building constructive relationships. Recently India has also been working to establish ties with the Taliban to solidify its geopolitical stronghold in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US withdrawal. Now with the Afghan government also recognizing the Taliban as a political entity, India is less hesitant to form a relationship with the anti-establishment group, while another reason for this sudden change in India’s policy amounts to counterbalance Pakistan’s ties with Afghanistan.
In the past Taliban have inclined towards Pakistan, with Pakistan playing an essential role in the peace deal between the US and the Taliban, however, the recent turn of events is showcasing a different stance taken by the Taliban. The history between Pakistan and the Taliban long persists in the current peace deal and dates back to the time of the Soviet invasion, which has often led Pakistan in the hot waters in the international arena. Now with the changing dynamic, the relation has been strained from both sides. Taliban on its front want to appease them and gain the support of the general public which is wary of Pakistan while at the same time they want to establish ties with other nation-states and build their own relationship with them that is independent of Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan is not seeking to support a full Taliban led government as it might have religious repercussions for the Pakistani state. Moreover, it wants to maintain amicable relations with the Afghan government and for it to not shift majorly towards India. This would also ensure Pakistan’s image as a regional US ally under the new Biden administration.
With the US planning its departure from Afghanistan, new geopolitical actors will emerge to hold off the falling pieces. While the Intra-Afghan peace negotiations transpiring between the Afghan government and the Taliban would result in the future establishment that would form in Afghanistan, there is speculation that Taliban forces might not have a foreseeable future in Afghanistan as now the movement is just based on ideological grounds lacking strong leadership. This might result in an internal divide further weakening the movement’s ability to match the development requirements on the international front. What the Taliban have is the power of might rather than strategic goals which have deemed them rather unpopular to rule as an establishment. In light of this, the regional responsibility falls upon Pakistan as the most influential actor in its dealing with the Taliban. The extent to which its influence might be needed to fully stabilize the region is still up for debate.