May strengthen Pakistan, which is facing possible disintegration.

 

New Delhi: US President Donald Trump—who is being criticised in the United States for his far from perfect handling of the coronavirus pandemic—has an election to win in less than six months. And like most politicians, Trump’s priorities are in favour of ensuring election victory, even if it means legitimising one of the biggest terror networks in the world. Trump’s big election promise has been the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan after a bloody 18-year-long battle. The Afghan peace deal announced in February in Doha will have a significant fallout for the entire region. The twin terror attacks in Kabul earlier this week, including the horrific attack on a maternity clinic have exposed the fragility of the much-publicised conditional peace agreement with the Taliban.

It is troubling that while the US has blamed ISIS for the dastardly attack in the maternity clinic, which has already claimed 56 lives, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has blamed the Taliban. In fact, Ghani has ordered fresh retaliatory action against the Taliban, indicating that the fissures are likely to only widen once US troops completely withdraw from Afghanistan. The reluctance to name the Taliban by US’ top diplomat Mike Pompeo not just signals the desperation by the Trump administration to exit ahead of the election, but also indicates the possibility of fresh leverage for Rawalpindi (the civilian government of Imran Khan in Islamabad has no role) in the region. Mike Pompeo’s exit strategy is ensuring that some of the most dreaded terror networks on earth—the Taliban and the Haqqani network—are now getting away scot-free after committing gross crimes against humanity. Newborn infants, pregnant women and mothers were victims of one of the most heinous terror attacks in recent times.

Pakistan is facing very serious internal tensions. Not just the restive Balochistan region, now even the Sindh region is witnessing violent clashes and renewed demands for sovereignty. Persistent and long freedom struggle in Balochistan, where the Pakistan army committed unimaginable human rights violations, a violent Sindh province and growing tensions in the Northern KPK region are all happening at a time when Imran Khan’s government is facing bankruptcy. It has debts totalling 90% of its GDP and is currently surviving on handouts from the IMF. But a leverage in Afghanistan could provide Pakistan with some manoeuvrability to negotiate with the US. The US-Taliban deal is essentially a victory for the Taliban, the jihadi groups and Pakistan’s long, obsessive, abortive strategy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan to be used against India. And for Islamabad, the turn of events has been nothing short of remarkable: groups and leaders that America once targeted and asked Pakistan to take action against are now being seen as reformers and offered opportunities to sit across diplomats to negotiate peace deal pacts. Under the present circumstances, the prospect of the Imran Khan government getting a lifeline is bound to create more tension for the entire region. The Paris-based anti-terror watchdog, Financial Action Task Force may be upset with Pakistan for not dismantling terror networks, but these outfits are now of immense strategic importance not just to Islamabad but also to US. This will not just come in the way of lasting peace for the region, it will ensure the international community will not pay heed to Pakistan’s crimes against its minorities and growing demands for sovereignty by several of its regions. Worse still, it may even lead to US increasing aid to Pakistan. In 2018, Donald Trump announced the suspension of disbursement of funds under the Coalition Support Fund after being frustrated with Pakistan’s duplicity on the war against terror, only to do a reversal the following year. New Delhi needs to ensure a bankrupt Pakistan, facing internal tensions from all its regions, is not able to secure financial lifelines from Washington due to its strategic importance in the Afghan deal.

 

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