In what would certainly be described as a snub to Pakistan, the Taliban have opposed linking Kashmir with Afghanistan, a staple tool in Pakistan’s diplomatic talking points

by Indrani Bagchi

Expressing “Deep Sadness” at what they described as a “crisis” in J&K, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said: “Linking the issue of Kashmir with that of Afghanistan by some parties will not aid in improving the crisis at hand because the issue of Afghanistan is not related nor should Afghanistan be turned into the theatre of competition between other countries.” 

Pakistan sees its assistance with the peace process in Afghanistan as a lever to get the US to push India for a Kashmir settlement. The Taliban count Pakistan as one of their premier patrons, including giving sanctuary, training and funding to their fighters and leaders over the years. It is Pakistan’s close ties with the Taliban that has given Islamabad space in the peace process. 

By changing the status of J&K into a union territory, India has taken that off the table. Pakistan in the past few days has threatened to torpedo the Afghan peace talks as a pressure tactic on the US. The Taliban statement, which appears to have been “influenced” by the US, robs Pakistan of that plank. 

The Taliban statement was preceded by a similar one from former Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Tweeting, Karzai said, “Comments in Pakistan linking peace in Afghanistan to their objectives in Kashmir are indicative of Pakistan viewing Afghanistan as strategic depth. I call on Pakistan govt to stop using extremist violence as instrument of policy in the region. We hope the new measures by govt of India will lead to the betterment and prosperity of people in J&K as the citizens of India.” 

The Taliban statement is almost statesmanlike, despite its unhappy tone. They have carefully refrained from criticising India, instead focusing on the “difficulties and hardships of Muslims of Kashmir.” The mildly worded statement also keeps a path open for engagement with India. As the US prepare to leave, India is also debating about how to engage the Taliban which will certainly become a dominant political force in Afghanistan.