Three world powers have tested their muscle in Afghanistan. Pakistan, it appears, is flexing its muscle to be the fourth. While the latest two took 20 years to turn the country into a “graveyard of empires,” the success or failure of the fourth will depend upon its economic, political and military might. Both Afghan and international media and politicians have since long been accusing Pakistan of interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. These accusations touched their zenith during the last phase of the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and the lightening- convergence of the Taliban on the US-abandoned Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul last month. The diatribe was vehemently rejected by both Islamabad and Rawalpindi, equally reverberated by the national media and intelligentsia. But then, came the much-hyped photo session of the ISI chief at Kabul Airport, days within Taliban’s victory, which served as a confessed testimony. The bravado of Pakistani ministers announcing defeating India on Afghanistan’s ground further sealed the assumption. Of all the six immediate neighbours of Afghanistan, Pakistan is, undoubtedly, the most affected by its internal situation. While the Central Asian states and China have always secluded themselves from the impact of any adverse situation in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan have always faced consequences in case of any upheaval there. The chain of the so-called Wahabi or Salfi Madrassas created an altogether new class of Afghan and Pakistani jihadists that shared a rather stronger spiritual bond of fraternity. Iran, too, is affected only to a limited proportion, mostly based on sectarian and linguistic proximity. For Pakistan, it has become a serious issue of national security, economy, demography, and law and order. Though unavoidable, the Afghan Jihad had virtually rendered the Durand Line a meaningless boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of the five million Afghan refugees taking shelter from the Soviet war had permeated into the core of the Pakistani society; setting up businesses, developing relationships and other interests with the local population, even beyond the Pashtoon margin of the Pakistani ethnicity. While members of Pakistan’s security apparatus and the jihadist political parties and leaders equally thrived on petro-dollars, drugs and Kalashnikov cultures in the 1980s, their unholy collusion with the Western and Arab interests gave birth to another lucrative venture of Jihad industry; lending further dimensions to the war against the Soviet Union. The chain of the so-called Wahabi or Salfi Madrassas created an altogether new class of Afghan and Pakistani jihadists that shared a rather stronger spiritual bond of fraternity. While jihad against the Soviet Union ended in 1989, this gigantic industry kept flourishing with more zeal as the defeat of the former superpower had further boosted the morale of the jihadist forces. “We have defeated the Soviet Union and now it is the turn of America,” Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the firebrand former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (the party that played a leading role in the Afghan Jihad) would roar at any public gathering across the country. In the succeeding years, the flow of history shifted the torch of jihad from the hands of Akhwani Islamists to the traditional rural-seminary clergy as by now, the Madrassas had started a mushroom production of Jihadists who were eager to take on any infidel power for the glory of Islam. However, this Jihadist pan-Islamism, which was previously considered a strategic asset, gradually turned into a liability for Pakistan as the spectre grew out of its size. The worst-case scenario was the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban. Besides this internal trouble-making scenario, the so-called AfPak region also turned into a fertile ground for regional and international militant groups. As a result, groups like Al Qaeda, Islamic State, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jundullah, Ansarullah and dozens of others operating in South Asia to the Middle East found safe heavens in the region to the detriments of Islamabad, which finally created the ground for the US-NATO invasion of Afghanistan. While Pakistani agencies kept giving the impression that the situation was quite under their control, the spectre had already flown out of the bottle turning the situation into a nightmare. The dislodging of the Taliban government in Afghanistan caused more trouble to Islamabad, as both Pakistani Taliban and Baloch militants found a conducive ground across the border from where they purportedly carried out subversive activities inside Pakistan. The Indian factor, real or imaginary, was another nightmare disturbing the sound sleep of Pakistanis. That is why a friendly government in Kabul became the country’s strategic weakness. Simultaneously, the falling economy also forced Pakistan to consider in terms of geo-economics; making it imperative for Islamabad to reach out to the Central Asian states in search of cheaper energy and electricity and also to bolster its trade up to the Eurasian northwest flanks. This entails a peaceful, stable and conducive Afghanistan. Obviously, Islamabad is constrained to interact with anyone at the helm of affairs in Kabul–more so about the Taliban–as even the US has been using its good office with the group to achieve certain objectives. All these compulsions and shortcomings apart, Pakistan has to demark limits and bounds for its engagement with the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Already, there are allegations that the Haqqani Network has links with the ISI. Now, with the rift between the main Taliban group and the Haqqani Network become more vivid, Pakistan has to give a clear message to both Taliban leaders and common Afghans that its engagement with Kabul is for constructive purposes–neither to dominate Afghanistan nor to take sides in the political divide. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are strategically positioned in the region. Before responding to any call for regional interaction, they have to take each other into confidence–up to the level of media and the masses–that their engagement is for puritan purposes, not to subdue the other. The writer is an independent freelance journalist covering South Asia/ Central Asia.