Now, as the Taliban ensconces itself in Kabul, a power competition between Pakistan and Qatar is all set to surface. The Taliban comprises two major power blocs. One is the militant group’s political wing headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, while the other is the military wing marshalled by Mohammad Yaqoob. Baradar is a longstanding Qatari ally who would have no qualms in ditching its recent jailor Pakistan. However, many in the Taliban’s military wing and Haqqani Network view Pakistan as their most viable partner given the vehement military and logistical support Islamabad has offered the Taliban in recent years.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan has played an instrumental role in the Taliban’s return to the fray and the militant group owes it a debt of gratitude. After the USA’s invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, top Taliban leaders housed themselves in Pakistan with Islamabad’s covert support. Islamabad provided them with arms, training, logistical support, funding and whatnot. It is one and only Pakistan’s unwavering support to the Taliban that the group has been able to withstand 20 years of the USA’s “war on terror.”
However, Pakistan shares a shaky relationship with the Taliban’s top political leader Mullah Baradar, and this could very well jeopardize Islamabad’s ambitions of usurping Afghanistan through the Taliban. Pakistan first sheltered him and then arrested him in 2010. Pakistani authorities even tortured him throughout all these years. He was released from detention in 2018 wherefrom he actively participated in the so-called peace talks between the US and the Taliban. A peace deal was finally signed in February 2020 and Doha facilitated it.
Qatar has always treated Baradar with the utmost regard and is hopeful to wield greater influence over him in order to set its footholds in the South Asian region. Qatar has been hosting Baradar for the past three years and now he is now slated to be the new head of Afghanistan. Baradar’s proximity to Qatar would not be the only reason for Pakistan’s misfortune in Afghanistan. The Taliban is striving for legitimacy and Qatar’s auspices could prove to be instrumental. Pakistan has lost credibility in the West and Qatar stands the best chance to emerge as a facilitator between the West and the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
And above all, a richer Arab country like Qatar could easily help the Taliban overcome its financial woes as the western aid to the country comes to a screeching halt given the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, is itself living on borrowed time and there is much less than a near-bankrupt Pakistan can offer to the power-hungry Taliban leaders.
Although, Pakistan would be seeking to acquire the “strategic depth” in the region by pulling the strings on Mohammad Yaqoob and Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the terrorist organisation Haqqani Network. What comes across as a silver lining for Pakistan is Akhundzada’s “shura,” or council, that wields a considerable influence over the Taliban affairs. It is the Akhundzada’s council that calls the shots in Afghanistan and Pakistan could be pinning its hopes on this faction to further its interests in the region.
But here is the catch. Given the Taliban’s blood-stained 5-year stint at Afghanistan’s helm of affairs from 1996 to 2001, the West doesn’t trust Pakistan’s commitment to ensure stability in Afghanistan. Moreover, if the Taliban happens to forge extremely close ties with Pakistan and a Pakistan-Taliban-China nexus comes to emerge in the region, the Taliban would further lose the much-needed credibility among the Western nations and it could even prompt countries like Russia, India and Iran to come together to form a joint front to counter the potent threat out of such an alliance.
If the Taliban wants to garner legitimacy from the West, it must shed off its proximity to Pakistan, and that’s where Qatar is hinging its hopes on. The Taliban may have ensconced itself in the country but the power game in Kabul is far from over. An influence war between Qatar and Pakistan is all set to break out in Afghanistan and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a longstanding Pakistan’s foe in the Taliban, will ensure Pakistan’s demise in the graveyard of the empires, namely Afghanistan.