The Taliban’s coming to power in Afghanistan has given a new strategic depth to Pakistan in an area which remains unexplored by them thus far.
The complex situation that has emerged in the region, especially with reservations in the international community to recognise the Taliban, has led Pakistan to deploy its intelligence agency to delve into an issue hitherto beyond its domain.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its operatives have been familiar with the terrain in the region and have close association with various active political and militant entities, not only in Afghanistan but also in the Central Asian states.
The prevailing situation in Afghanistan has given them a unique opportunity to expand their tentacles deep inside these states with the aim of influencing political decision making on Afghanistan and its future.
Analysts and experts dealing with the area feel that Pakistani operatives, who have traditionally been meddling in Afghan affairs, could create a damaging impact in the Central Asian states through influence building and playing one against the other.
Some of the Central Asian states have traditionally experienced difficult political processes of transition over a period of time with several players, including radical elements, contributing to the complexities of the situation.
Russian experts are of the opinion that Pakistani intelligence operatives are often influenced by a false sense of confidence in as far as search for strategic depth in the neighbourhood is concerned, and are already making such efforts in Central Asia as well.
Considering the various Taliban factions and political groups operating in Afghanistan having linkages in the Central Asian states, especially Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Pakistani operatives have been using them and their access to reach out to various political leaders in some of the Central Asian states, especially Tajikistan.
Russian experts have claimed that Pakistan’s intelligence agency has been trying to connect with various groups and individuals in Tajikistan, which are not well disposed towards the government in Dushanbe. The discreet and covert Pakistani activities have been a worrisome factor in these states.
In a recent article on the issue in the Russian daily ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ (NG), it was mentioned that Pakistani emissaries and their proxies have been paying special attention to Tajikistan and striving to influence the Afghan policy on Dushanbe.
The article further mentioned that a number of sources in Central Asia, especially in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, have reported that the ISI has been using its deep-rooted links with the Taliban and its various factions for the purpose.
Another concern among Central Asian experts is that following its grip on Afghanistan, Pakistan intends to shift various militant training camps from Pakistan to Afghanistan. This would tend to impact the security in the Central Asian states in the long run.
Moreover, such resource base could be eventually used by the ISI for indulging in any crude strategy that they may envisage in Tajikistan or any other state. These camps could emerge as hot beds of strategic planning with the involvement of various political players in the Central Asian states who would want to make political gains in the given circumstances.
Being more specific, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta article mentions that the Pakistanis have been showing special interest in the Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) of Tajikistan, which has witnessed instability and is marred by complex radical undercurrents.
This has given rise to the feeling that Pakistan could exploit the complex underlining in the political situation in Tajikistan with the aim of influencing Dushanbe on the Afghan issue. The daily mentions that its sources have indicated that Islamabad is interested in influencing Dushanbe’s policy towards Afghanistan, thereby effectively ensuring Dushanbe’s support for the Taliban government and avoid any support to elements not well disposed towards the Taliban regime.
The GBAO has always remained a difficult region in terms of control by Dushanbe. The region is dominated by rabid fundamental elements and criminal groups capable of posing a serious threat to stability in the country.
Historically, no government in Dushanbe has ever had full control over this region. The area was at one point claimed by China, Russia and various Emirs and Khans, but has somehow retained its unique identity of remaining distinct.
Some experts claim that Islamabad’s particular attention to the region could be driven by the long-drawn differences between Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and the various local leaders in GBAO. The possibility of the Pakistanis trying to play elements in GBAO against Dushanbe in order to have leverage over President Rahmon cannot be ruled out.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta claimed that in November-December 2021, several contacts were made between representatives of Pakistani intelligence services and a number of influential Tajik businessmen, including natives of GBAO, living outside Tajikistan.
During these meetings, Pakistani emissaries offered their interlocutors a variety of support and a “new strategic partnership” in return for engaging closely with the Pakistanis.
As per the daily, Pakistani representatives also expressed their readiness to become intermediaries between opposition groups in Tajikistan and the Afghan Taliban, who have special camps for training militants.
There is already evidence about the existence of training camps for the training of suicide bombers in the north-eastern Afghan province of Badakhshan, bordering GBAO, where these facilities were transferred from Pakistani Waziristan in the fall of 2021.
There is thus need for Russia to pay more attention to the issue in the coming days, as it could face a difficult and uncertain situation in the region which remains yet volatile. The safest option for Russia under the circumstances would be to ensure mediation with all concerned parties in Tajikistan so that a semblance of stability prevails in the region, not allowing any outside elements, especially the Pakistanis, to create difficulties for Russia and the Central Asian states in the coming days.