As Pakistani leaders quarrel with the neighboring Afghan Taliban over the demarcation of their shared border, USIP’s Asfandyar Mir says Pakistan’s own Taliban insurgency has “been boosted by the example of the Afghan Taliban … if things continue to escalate over the medium term, things become very difficult for Pakistan.”

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.

Transcript

Julie Mason 
I'm Julie Mason. Dr. Asfandyar Mir joining me, he's a senior expert in the Asia Center at the United States Institute of Peace, here to talk about the Pakistani Taliban. Dr. Mir, this seems like not great development.

Asfandyar Mir 
Sure. So for 20 years, the Pakistani government became, you know, sort of argued with the United States government not to fight with the Afghan Taliban to accommodate the Afghan Taliban in some sort of a political settlement. Based on the premise that the Afghan Taliban were somehow better for Pakistan's security and wellbeing. Turns out, that's not the case of the last six months. Forces of the Pakistani Taliban, which has fought the Pakistani government, they have been boosted by the example of the Afghan Taliban, and they have stepped up their violence. And you know, and they've been bleeding Pakistan meaningfully in these last few months.

Julie Mason 
I mean, they couldn't possibly envision taking over Pakistan in the way they did Afghanistan, would they?

Asfandyar Mir 
That's correct. So, the nature of the threat is very different. The Afghan Taliban was a nationwide insurgency, the forces of the Pakistani Taliban operate in Pakistan's peripheries. Still they have some power to project violence into Pakistan's main cities. They can impose some real costs on Pakistani security forces, so they can be a real thorn in the side of the of the Pakistani government.

Julie Mason 
Has the prime minister or the Pakistani government had much to say about the Pakistani Taliban?

Asfandyar Mir 
Initially, when the Afghan Taliban took over, the Pakistani government was optimistic that this problem would be taken care of, that the Afghan Taliban will help them out. The Pakistani prime minister, in fact, announced that the Afghan Taliban was helping them negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban. But of late, those negotiations have gone nowhere and much of the Pakistani leadership has been downplaying this escalation in violence, pretending as if everything's okay, but it's clearly not the case.

Julie Mason 
And one of the outstanding issues is where the border is located.

Asfandyar Mir 
That's another issue, which has cropped up in the Pakistan-Taliban relationship. So, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been long contested. It has not been recognized by any government in Kabul over the last 70 years. And the Pakistanis are hoping that the Taliban will be different, that they will not challenge the border the same way as some of the last few governments of Afghanistan. Turns out that expectation has proven wrong. The Taliban are nationalists, Afghan nationalists in some measure, and they're challenging Pakistan's claim on the international border, as well, which is a source of major tension between the two sides now.

Julie Mason 
Now, the Pakistani Taliban is it mostly Afghans? Or is it Afghans and Pakistanis? Or is it mostly Pakistanis?

Asfandyar Mir 
So it's mostly Pakistanis. But there is I think there's a fraction of the fighting force, which draws on people from the other side of the border. And now there are reports that the fighters of the Afghan Taliban, as they are done with their so-called jihad, they are turning to the forces of the Pakistani Taliban, they are interested in joining the Pakistani Taliban because they're still edging for another fight.

Julie Mason 
Well, it seems to me that one of the concerns attended to this must be that the terrible humanitarian situation in Afghanistan could push a bunch more refugees from Afghanistan into Pakistan and increase the instability there.

Asfandyar Mir 
You know, Pakistan has some tough days ahead. As you know, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is not improving. It's only getting worse. And that brings with it a lot of spillovers. Refugees are one of them. Afghanistan is also landlocked, so that takes an economic toll on Pakistan as well. Now you combine that with this militancy challenge, if violence continues to escalate over the medium term, I think things become very difficult for Pakistan. So, it appears that Pakistani leadership's decision to celebrate the return of the Afghan Taliban was shortsighted. You know, Afghan Taliban in your neighborhood is not such a great idea, as some leadership appeared to have argued over the last many years.

Julie Mason 
And Dr. Mir, what was behind their support? I mean, the Taliban is never good news. Like it's just never, ever good news. Why did the Pakistani leadership support the new regime?

Asfandyar Mir 
So, you know, it's one of the great puzzles of this post 9/11 war on terror. Many policymakers in Washington have tried to understand it, unpack it. And I think the best answer remains that, you know, Pakistan really obsesses over its rival India, and its activities in and around Pakistan. And Pakistan really didn't like the fact that the Indian government had a friendly relationship with the former Afghan government from the get-go, you know, right after 9/11. Or when right after the U.S. invasion, once the government was was established, the Indians had a lot of political influence in the U.S. tax regime. And Pakistan was determined to not let that regime stabilize and wanted to take it down. And even now, even as violence is going up, the question Pakistani policymakers are probably asking themselves is: what happens if the Taliban are weakened? Will Indian influence once again grow in the country? And I think the answer they're coming down to is yes. If the Taliban are weakened, the Indians will find more of a footing in Afghanistan once again, and that's an outcome that is unacceptable to them. So, in the near term, I think they're going to take this increase in violence as a cost of doing business, of keeping Indians out from their Western neighborhood.

Julie Mason 
And, of course, as always, one of the worries with Pakistan is that it is a nuclear-armed country.

Asfandyar Mir 
That's exactly right. So, Pakistan has a large nuclear arsenal and due to that, there are concerns in the international community. And for what it's worth, the international community judges Pakistan's nuclear security protocols to be adequate, to be in compliance with potential best practices. However, it remains a very challenging neighborhood. So, you know, I think the international community will keep worrying about Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, so long as there's so much instability in the region.

Julie Mason 
Dr. Asfandyar Mir is senior expert in the Asia Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Dr. Mir, thank you.

Asfandyar Mir 
Thanks for having me, Julie.

Julie Mason 
Good to talk.

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