A Solution to the Afghanistan-Taliban Conflict?

Every time a suicide bomber blows up Afghan civilians - as in the January attack that killed seven and injured 26 staffers of the TOLO-TV news team in Kabul - Afghans wonder: Why does Pakistan continue to support the Taliban, which brazenly claimed responsibility for this and other deadly attacks on innocent civilians?

Pakistan doesn't necessarily hold a deep love for the Pashtun-dominated Taliban; it bombs them in Waziristan, north of Pakistan, while at the same time asking the Afghan government to enter into negotiations with them.

Pakistan knows that a nationalist Taliban stronghold in Kabul would be a major threat to the security of the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan establishment. But Pakistan wants to use the Taliban as an instrument of pressure to force the Afghan government to capitulate to its demands.

Pakistan is well aware that, since the 2015 disclosure of Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar's death, the group is fractured. The radical organization is no longer an ideology-driven team of young, devoted soldiers seeking to establish a global caliphate, as Al Qaeda or the Arab nationalists in ISIS desire.

The Kunduz incident in 2015 showed their weakness: The Taliban occupied a province for a few days but soon was ousted by the Afghan army and civilians fighting shoulder to shoulder - a scenario quite unlike the '90s, when Afghans welcomed the Taliban to clean up the mess that the Mujahedeen caused.

Many Taliban leaders who tacitly approved of joining the peace process were either mysteriously assassinated or are serving time in Pakistani jails. Therefore, Pakistan would be better off dealing with moderate, educated Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (a Pashtun) than the true warriors of Pashtun ethnicity.

So why does Pakistan support the Taliban? Because the terrorists can help Pakistan achieve its land-grab goals.

Former president Hamid Karzai, in his farewell speech to Afghans in 2014, lamented failure to bring the Taliban into the peace process. He blamed Pakistan. "Pakistan wanted me to ratify the Durand Line and to control our foreign policy," Karzai said (Pakistani officials privately confirmed this to American observers at the recent peace talks, according to Afghan journalists).

The Durand Line is the disputed border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Before the birth of Pakistan - originally part of India - British envoy to India Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893 signed a treaty with Afghanistan King Amir Abdul Rahman, whereby the British seized 40,000 square miles of ancestral Pashtun territory between the Indus and the Khyber Pass. That land is demarcated by the so-called Durand Line.

Ever since, the Durand Line has been disputed by both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghan kings, communist leaders and even the Pakistani-supported Taliban have contested the Line. The Taliban's one-eyed leader, Mullah Omar, reportedly refused to ratify any agreement. Pakistan wants the issue resolved once and for all. What can Afghans do? They don't have much leverage. The Afghan government is exhausted and almost on the verge of collapse because of constant attacks from all sides by the Pakistan-supported Taliban. The only card they have to play is the Durand Line.

Pakistan wants a treaty ratified to give it legal claim to the land. A face-saving solution for Afghanistan would be to hold an internationally-monitored referendum to allow Pashtuns on the Pakistani side of Durand Line to decide for themselves.

Such a vote has happened before. On June 21, 1947, after the creation of Pakistan, Pashtuns on that side of the Durand Line voted to join Pakistan. A new vote might give Pakistan the land it wants, while providing Afghanistan with the peace it needs.

But the question of pressure from India remains.

After Karzai (with a college degree from India) came into power in Afghanistan in 2001, India increased its influence by building schools and clinics for Afghanistan. India also built a new Parliament building for Afghanistan at a cost of $90 million.

Unfortunately, India's good deeds have been marred by a series of deadly attacks on Indian Consulates in Afghanistan, with the Pakistani Taliban sending terrorists to punish civilians.

Pakistan could serve the purpose of peace by using more of its "soft power," as India has done in helping Afghanistan rebuild, rather than taking the destructive path of death.

Pakistan continues to see Indian influence as a threat. Former Pakistan Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf admitted to The Guardian that during his tenure as head of state, he tried to undermine the government of former Afghan president Karzai because Karzai had helped "India stab Pakistan in the back."

Musharraf ordered a reorganization of the Pakistan's Taliban-friendly intelligence agencies after India extended its influence in Afghanistan by opening consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar, bordering Pakistan. He accused the Afghan government of fomenting anti-Pakistani sentiment in the disputed territory of Kashmir through these consulates.

Therefore, it seems clear that Pakistan will continue to support the Taliban - and obstruct a peaceful solution - unless and until two major issues are resolved: The Durand Line dispute and the long-standing India-Pakistan animosities.

Hanging in the balance is Afghanistan's future as a viable nation ... or a failed state.