Why it is misleading to scapegoat Pakistan for the Taliban’s gains

As could have been expected, Pakistan is once again being scapegoated for the Taliban’s lightning-fast gains across Afghanistan, but this narrative just discredits those who propagate it like always. Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby accused the South Asian state of providing so-called “safe havens” to the Taliban and other terrorist groups, but this is a misleading claim. It’s taken for granted that some of the Pashtuns who sought refuge in Pakistan over the years might naturally sympathise with the majority-Pashtun Taliban, but this doesn’t automatically equate to Pakistan providing any “safe havens” to its fighters.

On the topic of refugees, America is also pressuring Pakistan into accepting even more of them despite the over one million that it already hosts. It’s contradictory for the US to accuse Pakistan of providing “safe havens” to the Taliban while at the same time asking it to allow entry for more Afghan refugees, the latter of which is exploited as the basis for making the former claims. Not only that, but it’s also hypocritical since the US itself refuses to process their asylum claims unless they flee to a third country first. Washington cannot reasonably demand that Islamabad do something that the US itself isn’t willing to do right now.

The next weaponised narrative being deployed against Pakistan at the moment is the #SanctionPakistan hashtag that the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) discovered is being pushed in a coordinated manner by Afghan, Indian, and PTM accounts. The evidence that this prestigious think tank presented should ordinarily be enough to prompt the US-based social media platform into banning this information warfare network’s primary nodes but Twitter has yet to do so. This strongly suggests the deliberate implementation of double standards for strategic purposes, namely to manufacture a weaponised narrative for pressuring Pakistan.

Such a tactic is counterproductive though since Pakistan is Afghanistan’s irreplaceable economic lifeline. Sanctioning the former will therefore naturally worsen the latter’s socio-economic crisis. Nevertheless, the perceived short-term perception management gains vis-a-vis Pakistan are irresponsibly considered to be worth the long-term socio-economic losses for Afghanistan by those participating in this information warfare campaign. It’s also intended to prompt foreign media to report on this artificially generated social media trend with the expectation that they’ll legitimise it and some of the false accusations connected to that campaign.

What’s really happening in Afghanistan is that the US’ puppet government and its military forces are rapidly collapsing in the face of the Taliban’s nationwide uprising. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is mostly comprised of desperate people who only joined for economic reasons but who have no loyalty to the externally imposed government that they represent. The Taliban has taken maximum advantage of this to convince many of them to simply surrender without a fight. The group’s pragmatic incorporation of non-Pashtun ethnicities into its ranks also convinced the Tajiks and others that it’s capable of representing their interests better than Kabul.

The battle for hearts and minds has already mostly been won by the Taliban. The group proved itself to be an effective fighting force, has promised to respect minorities’ and women’s rights, finally expanded beyond its Pashtun-centric origins, and effectively carries out anti-corruption campaigns. By contrast, the US-backed authorities in Kabul can’t hold on to much of the territory that they nominally control, are accused of pitting different ethnic groups against one another over the years, and is incorrigibly corrupt. Furthermore, the US’ military operations in its support have led to enormous civilian casualties and collateral damage over the years.

The answer to why everything is moving so swiftly in Afghanistan is therefore found within that country itself, not in neighboring Pakistan. Islamabad provides no so-called “safe havens” to Taliban fighters or any terrorist group for that matter, but rather serves as the Afghan people’s irreplaceable economic lifeline. That being said, Pakistan’s still a convenient scapegoat for the US and Kabul, mostly because it struggled to improve international perceptions over the past two decades even though that’s gradually changing nowadays. This makes it vulnerable to information warfare, though such weaponised narratives are discredited by the facts.