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Navigating Pak-Afghan Relations Amid Regional Dynamics

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The recent surge in the return of undocumented Afghan refugees from Pakistan has sparked debates on the correlation between these repatriations and the rising terrorism incidents within Pakistan. While the caretaker interior minister emphasizes a humane and complaint-redressal-focused approach, public perception suggests a potential connection between refugee returns and Pakistan’s stance on the Taliban government’s cooperation in addressing the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issue.

As discussions unfold, it becomes crucial to address the multifaceted views on Afghan refugees, acknowledging their historical context as victims of aggression and oppression. Some argue that, having lived in Pakistan for an extended period, these individuals might be considered economic migrants, hinting at the need for diplomatic discussions with Kabul to create favorable conditions for their settlement in Afghanistan.

Amidst diverse perspectives, it is essential to recognize that the Afghan Taliban and the TTP share ideological roots, making cooperation between the two entities more likely than kinetic action. The intertwined history of their collaboration, particularly during the Afghan Taliban’s fight against American forces, further complicates the situation. The Afghan Taliban’s reluctance to take direct action against the TTP underscores the challenges of expecting reciprocal measures from the Afghan government.

To navigate this complex scenario, Pakistan must adopt a two-pronged approach. Diplomatically, efforts should persist in persuading Kabul to prevent the TTP from using Afghan soil for planning attacks against Pakistan. Simultaneously, recognizing the need for autonomous action, Pakistan must prepare for a kinetic fight against the TTP, mirroring past successes in Swat and Waziristan.

The perception of forced refugee returns as a retaliatory measure could strain Pak-Afghan ties, necessitating careful diplomatic maneuvering. Pakistan’s government should prioritize diplomatic engagement with Kabul, fostering open communication and collaborative efforts to address shared concerns.

Addressing the question of Afghan gratitude for Pakistan’s past support, it is crucial to reflect on historical cooperation during the Soviet-Afghan War and the subsequent humanitarian assistance during the ‘war on terror.’ Despite accusations of playing a double game, Pakistan refrained from taking kinetic action against the Afghan Taliban leadership.

In hindsight, exploring dialogue with the Taliban during the US-Taliban negotiations in 2021 could have presented an opportune moment for Pakistan to discuss critical issues, including the TTP, border management, and refugee returns. Engaging in talks during a period of pressure on the Taliban might have yielded more amenable outcomes.

Moving forward, a diplomatic and political engagement strategy remains essential for addressing bilateral issues. Open discussions in Pakistan’s parliament, involving diverse perspectives, can contribute to informed policy decisions. With Afghanistan seen as an economic hub connecting regions, both countries have the potential for mutually beneficial collaboration on regional energy projects and transit trade. Aligning with Pakistan’s geo-economic pivot, such initiatives can reshape the narrative and foster positive relations between Islamabad and Kabul.

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