The Taliban’s rise to power has come much faster than expected. With Afghanistan now a de facto Islamic emirate administered by the hardliner group, many fear not just for the citizens of Afghanistan but the outcomes of these developments for global politics. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s intelligentsia is divided between those celebrating what they see as a strategic victory while some express grave concerns. The Afghan crisis is not a recent development but can be traced back to the Saur revolution in 1978. The assassination of President Daud Khan by the People’s Democratic party established Nur Muhammad Taraki as Afghanistan’s leader while rebellion began spreading throughout the country. Soon, Taraki was also assassinated in another coup orchestrated by his close aide Hafizullah Amin. Amin’s rise to power saw an intensification of the Afghan resistance to the communist regime being spearheaded in the name of Jihad. The growing distrust of the Soviets for Amin and fears for strategic loss led them to invade Afghanistan, assassinate Amin and establish Afghanistan as a de facto colony. This marked the third coup and assassination of a head of state within three years. Amid these circumstances, Afghanistan became the centre of the cold war and strategic interests of regional powers. Funded by the US and strategically equipped and trained by Pakistan, the Mujahideen began leading the insurgence against Soviet forces. Contrary to public perception, it is important to note that the Mujahideen were not the Taliban that was born years later. The Mujahideen comprised of various factions that pertained to various ethnicities and schools of religious thought many of whom were based in refugee camps in Pakistan—all united under the motive of what they saw as a fight against “anti-Soviet occupation.” Interestingly, former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, was a pro-Mujahideen activist; raising funds in Peshawar while President Ashraf Ghani wrote an article for the LA Times; celebrating the Mujahideen “resistance” in 1989. The Afghan crisis is not a recent development but can be traced back to the Saur revolution in 1978. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Najibullah-led communist regime collapsed in 1992. The power vacuum plunged Afghanistan into another civil war as various Mujahideen factions fought amongst themselves to take control of Afghanistan. Amid the renewed chaos, the Taliban was founded in 1994 by a Mujahideen commander and religious cleric Mullah Omar who graduated from Akora Khattak’s Dar ul Uloom Haqqania. Thus, the Deobandi seminary is regarded as the ideological cradle of the Taliban while its chancellor and teacher, Maulana Sami ul Haq (former Pakistani Senator), is known as “father of the Taliban.” This is one of the primary reasons why the Taliban is alleged to be a Pakistani proxy by foreign spectators. The Taliban is a Pashtun-dominated group that follows a literalist interpretation of Islam intertwined with Pashtun tribal customs. That is how they view their political endeavours. The group captured Kabul in 1996; ousting the warring parties that had “razed the city to the ground” by that time. While Tajiks dominated under the military command of Ahmad Shah Massoud formed the Northern alliance and captured Northern Afghanistan, the Taliban had gained the country’s majority and declared it to be an Islamic emirate. The Taliban’s first rule was marked by political stability but at the same time, the regime was severely criticised for its regressive policies, including the oppression of women, severe restrictions, and harbouring of terror groups. Even though the Taliban-ruled Islamic Emirate maintained backdoor diplomacy with the US and was recognised by its allies such as Pakistan and KSA, the US-Taliban relations strained over the latter’s inaction against the terror outfit Al-Qaida. In the wake of 9/11, the US demanded Osama Bin Laden’s extradition, to which the Taliban refused without a trial. As a result, the US invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban regime by allying themselves with the Northern Alliance. Thus, the US-backed democratic regime stemmed from the Northern Alliance, which had been ruling Afghanistan for the last 20 years, is traced back to the Mujahideen. Long story cut short, the Taliban is back in power aided by the defection of prominent regime leaders, such as Herat Governor Ismail Khan as well as the guarantees of former Prime Minister Hekmatyar, former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and former President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban is now promising to be a reformed group that has “learned from its past mistakes;” guaranteeing the rights of women to work and education; amnesty to former rivals; protection of minorities and prohibition of terror groups from operating on this soil. However, from the conflicting reports on the ground, many see this only as a PR stunt; believing that the group has changed only in strategy, but not in its ideology. There are many reasons to reject the Taliban’s claims of having changed but there are other reasons to give them a chance. The writer (who hails from Akora Khattak) narrates his grandmother’s interaction with Sami ul Haq—“Taliban’s ideological father”—who expressed his pride in Pashtun women becoming educated and encouraged her to pursue a political career even though she stood in opposition to his party in 2002. This was an observance of Haq’s ideological evolution through years of family acquaintanceship. Thus, there is a possibility that a group led by his students might undergo a similar evolution. Indeed, the thinking process in seminaries and warfare is likely to go under a change when exposed to modern urban life and the administration of a strategically important nation-state. Having spent many years overseas and engaging with the international community certain commentators believe that the group’s leaders may have self-reflected and reoriented their policies. To ensure the ‘reformed’ Taliban stays true to its promises, the international community must keep a close watch on the group and aim to integrate them into the international community. Pushing them into the corner once again could easily trigger them into fanaticism, which will not only throw Afghanistan into another turmoil but create a threat for the international community. Pakistan’s concerns on the security side are linked to the Afghan Taliban’s not-so-secret ties with the TTP. While the Afghan Taliban has not been a party to the TTP’s terror activities in Pakistan, it shares a similar ideology and has been providing them with a haven. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff had, thus, allegedly declared both groups to be “two sides of the same coin.” The second issue is their likely rejection of the Durand line. Nevertheless, the Taliban is a reality now and Pakistan will have to deal with its interests via engagement. For the latter issue, it hasn’t been resolved in decades of Pak-Afghan diplomacy. Thus, Pakistan’s best bet would be to keep the issue sidelined lest it strains relations with the neighbouring regime. The Taliban’s relationship with the TTP is, however, a very concerning matter that could destabilise the security situation in Pakistan. Despite the Afghan Taliban spokesperson’s comments that the TTP will not operate from Pakistan, the Pashtunwali code bounds them to give refuge to those who seek it. The issue of TTP is not a black-and-white one as perceived in nationalist sentiments. The group is dominated by the Mehsud tribe, which had once been Pakistan’s trusted non-state actors in conflicts be it the 1948 and 1965 Kashmir wars or the Afghan Jihad. Even under Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the tribal warriors had remained loyal to the Pakistani state despite their affiliation with the Afghan Taliban and the TTP was non-existent until the military operation in the tribal areas. The incumbent premier Imran Khan had been warning against what he saw as brutal military action in the tribal areas for a long time. He had predicted that the military operation would radicalise the tribal warriors who will unleash a wave of terrorism in Pakistan. Consequently, Baitullah Mehsud (who according to former DG ISI Gen Hamid Gul and intelligence sources was a former state loyalist) founded the terror outfit in 2007, throwing Pakistan into decade long war which resulted in the deaths of almost 75000 people. Pakistan has learned from its past mistakes and Imran Khan maintains the same narrative. In case of a looming TTP threat once again, Pakistan forces may be able to crush them but at the cost of many lives and the ideology of terror will not be eliminated. Therefore the best call for Pakistan would be to disarm the group via backdoor diplomacy. The Afghan Taliban promises to eliminate terror operations from its territory. Its links with the TTP could be the best opportunity for Pakistan to peacefully eliminate TTP’s threat. Afghan Taliban’s takeover has given birth to a lot of speculation and unexpected scenarios. The shift in global politics and strategic partnerships is inevitable but the question of what it will look it is only a guess. As for Pakistan, it must put its interests first and take the opportunity to find a friendly government in Kabul and then work on the ties between people. Whether the Afghan Taliban can be that friendly ‘reformed’ government or not, only time will be the judge. The writer frequently covers politics, history and current affairs. He tweets @Khan__Bahadur.