ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s outlook of Afghanistan seems to have slightly changed during the first quarter of this year due to the neighbouring country’s security loopholes and the Taliban administration’s “deafening” silence towards banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other extremist groups operating from Afghan soil.

Although Pakistan has continued lobbying for the Taliban government’s recognition and rallying for humanitarian aid for Afghans, but it is crystal clear that its policy towards Afghanistan will be shaped by the Taliban’s responses on Pakistan’s border and internal securities as well as countering terrorism efforts.

These are some of the findings of the 3rd quarterly monitor on Afghanistan titled ‘Perspectives from Pakistan on Afghan Peace and Reconciliation,’ released by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) – an Islamabad-based policy research and advocacy think tank.

The report covers the period from January to March 2022. It is the outcome of comprehensive monitoring and analysis of the opinions of different segments of Pakistani society and state institutions on the emerging Afghan situation, and its perceived impact on Pakistan.

The research aims to improve the knowledge base and awareness of key stakeholders on Pakistan’s Afghan perspective by demonstrating a critical review of varying viewpoints, positions, mainly around emerging events and developments in Afghanistan and their implications for Pakistan and the region.

As year 2022 began, many political analysts projected that Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban will become tense due to growing tension along the border, mainly due to the Taliban’s aggressive response to Pakistan’s fencing of the border, and an increase in terrorist violence in Pakistan by the TTP and Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) terrorist groups, reads the report. However, Pakistan did not slow down its diplomatic as well as humanitarian support to the interim government of Taliban, it adds.

“Though Taliban’s approach towards border fencing is different from expectations but reaction given by Pakistan military leadership is also very composed.”

Despite a political shift that has happened in the landlocked country, Afghan soil is still being used against Pakistan, says the study. “Other countries in the neighbourhood are also worried about the likelihood of an outflux of militant violence from Afghanistan.”

The media analysis conducted by PIPS shows that ongoing developments in Afghanistan are likely to have serious consequences for Pakistan. “This will undoubtedly bring religion into politics in Pakistan more than ever before.” Secondly, most media commentaries and analyses projected that Pakistan’s internal and border insecurity would increase as the Taliban remain reluctant to act against anti-Pakistan militants sheltered there. The issue has been a major challenge for Pakistan’s policymakers.

The report finds that most international engagements of the Taliban regime during the quarter under review were without any involvement or assistance of Pakistan, showing that Kabul rulers are gradually distancing themselves from Islamabad. Yet, Afghanistan remained a central topic in almost all multilateral and bilateral engagements of Pakistan.

While last quarter saw Pakistan making all efforts to resolve matters with the TTP on table, there was only little progress on talks with the banned group during the quarter under review, according to this research. The report indicates that the US might work with the Taliban to contain militant groups including Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), Daesh, and Al-Qaeda.

“Pakistan is walking a tightrope,” says the report. “It is not ready to recognise the new Afghan government unilaterally, but it is also not ready to let Afghanistan go down the path of fire and destruction.”

In its policy recommendations for Pakistan, the report proposes that the country should keep its security interests in mind while endorsing the Taliban’s viewpoint, particularly on the rights of women. It suggests that Pakistan needs to formulate a joint counter terrorism framework that addresses border security, trade, and travel.