(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Meenakshi Ray)
Pakistan has “harboured” members of the Taliban, including terrorists from the proscribed Haqqani Network, and needs to “line up” with a broad majority of the international community regarding Afghanistan, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Monday. The top diplomat said Pakistan has a “multiplicity of interests”, including some that are in “clear conflict” with that of the United States, when asked about how the US sees Islamabad’s involvement in Afghanistan. Blinken, while testifying before Congress on the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, said India’s involvement in Afghanistan has influenced some “detrimental” actions by Pakistan.
“What we have to look at is an insistence that every country, to include Pakistan, make good on the expectations that the international community has of what is required of a Taliban-led government if it’s to receive any legitimacy of any kind or any support,” Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “So Pakistan needs to line up with a broad majority of the international community in working toward those ends and in upholding those expectations,” Blinken said.
Pakistan has had deep ties with the Taliban and has been accused of supporting the group overtly and covertly. Those charges have been denied by Islamabad. Pakistan is also considered as one of the two countries, along with Qatar, with the most influence over the Taliban. It is also a place where many senior Taliban leaders were thought to have escaped to after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Former Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh alleged earlier this month the Taliban are being micromanaged by ISI—Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency—and that Islamabad is in charge of Afghanistan effectively as a colonial power.
US lawmaker Bill Keating during the testimony reminded Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks after the Taliban seized control. “Prime Minister Khan claimed Afghanistan had broken the shackles of slavery. So we used to always hear diplomatically that we have a complicated relationship with Pakistan. I would say it’s often duplicitous,” he said. He said that Pakistan’s ISI had such strong ties in cooperation with the Haqqani Network, “responsible for so many things including the deaths of some of our soldiers, and even recently when the Taliban took over in the last month”.
Keating asked Blinken how the US can reassess that relationship “how we, how we learn from their actions” as well as a way forward. Blinken said Pakistan is involved in “hedging its bets constantly” about the future of Afghanistan. “It’s one that’s involved harbouring members of the Taliban, including the Haqqanis. It’s one that’s also involved at different points, cooperation with us on counterterrorism, and so there are a number of things that have come into play it. It has a multiplicity of interests, some that are in conflict, clear conflict with ours,” Blinken said.
“When it comes to Afghanistan, it’s focused, of course as well, on, on India and the role that India is playing in Afghanistan, and it looks at it through that prism as well. All of these things, I think, have influenced what it has done on many occasions detrimental to our interests. On other occasions in support of those interests,” Blinken added.
The US top diplomat said that if the Taliban want any legitimacy or any support going forward, it must ensure freedom of travel to include making good on its commitments on not allowing Afghanistan to be used as a haven for outward-directed terrorism to include upholding the basic rights of the Afghan people. Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro also called on the United States to consider removing its status as a major non-Nato ally, which gives Pakistan privileged access to US weaponry.