Fears Of ‘front’ Opening With Afghanistan Dogs Pakistan
The unilateral action to evict 1.7 million unregistered Afghans from its soil is causing fears in Pakistan that the current army-backed caretaker government’s action could lead to opening “another front” with Afghanistan (as with eastern neighbour India), an editorial in the influential Urdu daily Jasarat (November 21, 2023) has said.
If that pushes the country into a military confrontation with the Taliban regime in Kabul, the fallout could be serious on the domestic front with the country preparing for national elections, while the Big Powers, embroiled in the Gaza Conflict may have no time to attend to it, analysts say.
Like many media outlets across Pakistan, the newspaper blames caretaker Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakkar’s ‘aggressive’ stance on the issue wherein he alleged in a television interview that the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) supposedly operating from Afghan soil, was using military equipment left behind by the United States and provided by the Kabul rulers. Both Kabul and the Biden administration have denied this. The State Department said that the US has left no arms behind in Afghanistan while quitting in August 2021.
Pushing the Afghans out, the government is attracting domestic ire at thousands of families being uprooted when the winter-time temperature in Afghanistan falls below four degrees Celsius. Media is highlighting appeals by the United Nations and the world community to desist from this.
Pakistan also feels short-changed by neighbouring Iran. Even as it has intermittently closed the Pak-Afghan border at Torkham and Chaman, According to daily Ummat (November 23, 2023), Iran has allowed visa-free entry to the Afghans and facilitated trade for the landlocked nation. Iran has a large Afghan refugee population settled for decades in eight different cities, but analysts say Tehran is helping Kabul to score a point with an adversarial US. Iran also benefits economically by trading with the Taliban and smuggling goods in and out of an economically stressed Pakistan.
The US, on its part, is keeping its toe-hold on Pakistan’s Balochistan province where it competes for strategic space with China and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) running through the province and ending at the Indian Ocean at Gwadar. American envoy to Pakistan Donald Blome visited Balochistan. The US is to give USD four million to increase the capability of the counter-terrorism force in Pakistan. Security is a major concern for China’s dealing with Pakistan as militants have done much to disrupt the CPEC’s progress.
The US Embassy spokesman in Islamabad announced that the counter-terrorism force of the Balochistan Police will be expanded and the funds will be doubled for the simultaneous training and education of an additional 800 people. Upgradation of police stations will be done under the aid package, an amount of 2 million dollars has been allocated for the repair and upgradation of 10 police stations damaged during the flood. Blome reiterated “the strong American support for the economic development of all parts of Pakistan including Balochistan, Qudrat reported (November 23, 2023).
Meanwhile, with the Gaza conflict raging, Pakistan is pushing for support to the Palestinians against a US-supported Israel. The top brass of the Pakistan Army on November 23 expressed unequivocal “diplomatic, moral and political support” for the Palestinian people when Army Chief General Syed Asim Munir presided over the 82nd Formation Commanders Conference.
Pakistan also seeks to push its diplomatic options on the China-Russia front to pressure the US. It has resumed talks with Moscow for concessional oil supplies, defence supplies and increasing bilateral trade. Its envoy in Moscow met President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani media reported. “Pakistan is working with Russia to start direct flights between the two nations. This initiative comes as Pakistan is actively seeking Russia’s support for its bid to join the BRICS group of nations in 2024,” The Eurasian (November 22, 2023) reported.
However, analysts point out that Pakistan purchased the last consignment of Russian oil with Chinese money. It is badly off economically and does not have much to export. And lastly, Russia cannot ignore the reports that Pakistan supplied large quantities of ammunition to Ukraine which is fighting the Russian forces.