By Ayesha Azmat Awan

The Taliban’s overthrow of the Kabul regime in Afghanistan has completely altered the dynamics of geopolitics in South Asia. Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain, as the coming months will reveal how the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan intends to govern the Afghan people. It would be interesting to see ifwestern democracies and international organizations will recognize Afghanistan’s future government, and whether the Taliban will be able to maintain cordial and diplomatic relations with the rest of the world.

Due to the advent of a new Cold War between the US and China, the US decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan has far more consequences for Afghans, the entire region, and the United States’ global stature. The intra-Afghan dialogue between Afghan Taliban and Afghan government completely failed, as Afghan Taliban managed to control the entire Afghanistan through force, while the Afghanistan’s security forces were unable to halt their advancement. The Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani’s government were playing a blame game to see who could outsmart the other. International efforts to persuade both sides to seek peace failed miserably, raising fears that the country will be ravaged by an ongoing conflict.

Ideally, the current situation can indeed be avoided if the withdrawal of US-NATO troops was being followed by long-term dialogue with Afghanistan’s ruling leadership. Perhaps the political reconciliation between the Taliban and Ashraf Ghani’s government could have created the conditions for regional peace and stability. There was, however, some hope for reconciliation when the two adversaries were on the verge of a clash, which was causing concern in the neighborhood because the political fallout seems to have serious consequences. Pakistan and its neighbours may now have to deal with a large influx of refugees.

This scenario will almost certainly have far-reaching consequences for not only Afghanistan, but also for US foreign policy and the rest of the world. According to the regional perspective, as the memories of 9/11 faded, the US presence in Afghanistan began to return cumulative effects. The presence of American troops in Afghanistan caused concern among the state’s neighbours. Iran, China, and Russia had also begun to see the US presence in Afghanistan as a serious irritant that threatened their national security.The US military presence in Afghanistan has lost its luster, as the US had also increased its expectations of Pakistan to “do more.” This was more of a ruse to conceal the country’s failures in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the US’ dismissive attitude toward Pakistan’s protests about India’s exploitation of Afghan land to foment instability in Pakistan has fueled Pakistan’s resentment and mistrust.

Now, the tables have been turned, and the world is likely to witness Pakistan, Russia, Iran, and China joining forces to play the next chapter of the Great Game.Prior to the American withdrawal, Pakistan preferred the formation of an inclusive Afghan government and that would have supported the evolving regional agreement on the American decision. While maintaining ties with the Taliban or contemplating future interactions with the US, including the possibility of granting the latter bases, Pakistan must consider the sensitivity of its proximity to Afghanistan.Despite Prime Minister Imran Khan’s denial on HBO and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s declaration in the National Assembly that no bases have been promised to the US, a Taliban spokesperson warned neighbouring countries on May 26 not to allow US forces to use their military bases and airspace against Afghan soil.

So far, the United States has been unable to persuade Pakistan to provide bases for an assessment of the Afghan situation.A chaotic Afghanistan could cause problems throughout the region, particularly in Pakistan. Pakistan’s goal of establishing links with Central Asia and carrying out CPEC projects may be jeopardized. Internal (NDS and former Northern Alliance) and external (India) spoilers in Afghanistan, according to Pakistani sources, may continue to push the country towards instability and conflict. As the facilitator of US-Taliban talks, the US and other Afghan players may expect Pakistan to play a larger role in resolving the country’s crisis.However, due to a variety of factors outside of Pakistan’s or any facilitator’s control, these expectations may be factually inaccurate or exaggerated. Due to the complexities of the Afghan system, the following factors should be taken into account: To begin with, following the withdrawal of the US, the US and European countries may put pressure on Pakistan to “do more.” Unfortunately, the majority of Europeans do not believe Pakistan’s assurances that the Taliban may function independently as a sovereign state. As a result, Pakistan might well struggle to act as a mediator.

Regardless of external pressures, Afghans must be left to themselves, with no interference from outside sources.Second, if Afghanistan’s internal situation deteriorates, Pakistan should brace itself for an influx of additional Afghan refugees at a time when the country’s economy is struggling and international assistance for refugees is highly unlikely. Pakistan must take the necessary steps to address the emergency situation created by the exodus of Afghans to Pakistan.

Now is the time for Pakistan to make a concerted effort to pursue a regional strategy aimed at promoting geo-economics. China is Pakistan’s best option. As a result, despite US criticism, it must fully comply with its economic core strength projects with the single most important goal of completing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects (CPEC). In fact, Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China would handle India’s regional maneuverings, creating a “two-front” situation for the latter that it would be unable to handle even with American military and technology assistance.Meanwhile, Pakistan should hold talks with Turkey (for Uzbeks), Russia, China, and Iran to ensure that Afghanistan’s neighbours are on the same page and to deter spoilers from delaying the withdrawal process. Pakistan must establish a strong regional policy, secure its borders, and prioritize economic development and policy. Instead of seeking far-flung allies, Pakistan entails regional partners to achieve the aforementioned goals. For the time being, the country’s top priority should be to support ensured peace and stability in Afghanistan, which should be accomplished in collaboration with all the other neighbours of Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s regional strategy could benefit even more if dialogue with India is initiated and both parties implement CBMs (confidence-building measures) to address the underlying issue of Jammu and Kashmir. India, on the other hand, will have to take concrete steps to address the concerns of the people of Jammu and Kashmir while also progressing with the negotiation process with Pakistan without any conditions attached. Improved relations with India will encourage Pakistan’s pursuit of geo-economics, paving the way for increased engagement between South and Central Asia, which is currently lacking due to India’s passive role in the region.

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