Afghanistan is in turmoil after the swift and lightning offensive carried out by the Taliban last month to capture Kabul and effectively seize control of the country. Thousands fled the country fearing a return to repressive regime of the 1990s and those who couldn’t are living under a palpable fear of persecution at the hands of their Talibani masters.
Even though the situation in Afghanistan is grim and dreary, it is nevertheless a favourable outcome for its neighbour Pakistan, which has revelled in chaos and disorder in its neighbourhood and had long sought to use the Taliban and other assorted terror groups to advance its geopolitical ambitions.
With the ignominious withdrawal of the United States and the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan, Pakistan has won a strategic victory, establishing a friendly and pliant government for the first time in nearly 2 decades.
Throughout the long war that the USA engaged the Taliban in, Pakistan has been playing both sides, pretending to be a US ally while providing shelter and support to Taliban leadership.
Since the inception of the Taliban back in the late 1980s and the 1990s, Pakistan has been its principal benefactor. It had not only trained armed mujahideen to fight the invading Soviet forces in Afghanistan but also helped facilitate the transition of a ragtag militia group into the Taliban, which later went on to lay control of the country from 1996 to 2001.
Pakistan was then one of the only three countries to recognise the Taliban government in Afghanistan and the last one to break formal ties with them after the US-led NATO invasion in the wake of the twin tower attacks.
During the time, the Taliban was in power in Afghanistan, it remained as a Pakistani marionette, whose strings were pulled from Islamabad. It collaborated with the Taliban to forge ties with central Asian terror outfits such as Al Qaeda and enlist them to realise their nefarious designs. In return, the Taliban received cash incentives, arms and ammunition, and an unfettered passage through the porous borders between the two countries.
When the US-led forces invaded Afghanistan, the Talibani leaders, as well as the top Al Qaeda commanders, bolted for their safe hideouts in Pakistan. For over two decades, Pakistan provided safe havens to Taliban leaders to cool their heels and organise their resistance. Wanted Talibani leaders and commanders moved around Pakistan without any restrictions.
“Pakistan can put pressure on Taliban… they have a very deep relationship, that is why Pakistan’s spy chief surfaced in Kabul, there are complaints even that Pakistan had influence in shaping the present government” former Pakistani Senator @a_siab tells me #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/oec41cBiUF— Yalda Hakim (@BBCYaldaHakim) September 14, 2021
Pakistan also threw open Military hospitals to treat the Taliban terrorists who got wounded in their guerrilla war in Afghanistan or while crossing the border. Al Qaeda terrorist Osama Bin Laden’s refuge in the Pakistani backwater town of Abbottabad was a testimony to Islamabad’s resolute support to terrorism and its willingness to provide sanctuary to UN-designated terrorists and terror groups.
Even as the western forces were busy routing the Taliban from Afghanistan, Islamabad, on the other hand, was occupied in the rehabilitation of the group. They provided assistance to sustain the Taliban, even as the terror outfit lost thousands of foot soldiers against the NATO forces.
Several US intelligence agencies and defence experts have been cautioning the USA against Pakistan, warning them that Islamabad’s interests were at conflict with the United States and that it was playing a dangerous double-game, falsely claiming to help the United States’ in its war on terror while clandestinely extending moral, emotional and tactical support to the Taliban.
Investigations reveal Pakistani support in helping the Taliban
Recently, US defence analyst Sarah Chayes in an interview with CNN explained how Pakistan’s ISI ran a sophisticated campaign for reinstalling the Taliban in power. When asked if the Taliban had cleverly utilised the 20 years time to build its capability and stake its claim to power, Chayes said it wasn’t the terror group but Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI that used its resources cleverly to help topple the US-backed Ashraf Ghani government in Afghanistan.
A documentary released in 2012, almost a decade before the fall of Kabul to resurgent Taliban, shed light on the double-dealing of the entities that identified themselves as the allies of the United States but were covertly working to undermine its mission in Afghanistan. Titled as ‘The Secret War’, the documentary was a culmination of the six-month long investigation carried out by Smith and Stephen Grey and which provided a window into interminably long-drawn-out war the United States had waged against Islamic terror outfits such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban
During the investigation, Smith and Grey found that the American soldiers stationed along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border were unhappy with the latter, for their covert support to the insurgency and terrorism targeted against the United States. One of the US troops, who wished to remain anonymous, confided to the reporters that the ground soldiers manning the border reportedly complained to the seniors about the Pakistani complicity in helping the Talibani and Al Qaeda terrorists cross the border and infiltrate into Afghanistan.
Pakistani Army and Air Force allegedly collaborate with the Taliban to suppress the Afghan resistance
Years later, as the Taliban wrest control of Afghanistan, Pakistan was at the forefront to grant legitimacy to the organisation and allegedly extend military help to bring the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining holdout of the Afghan resistance, under the Talibani control. Several reports that surfaced in the news hinted at Pakistani involvement in helping the Taliban in its offensive in Panjshir.
The reports claimed that the Taliban’s campaign against the Afghan resistance in Panjshir was aided by the Pakistani Air Force and Army. They reportedly bombed the Panjshir Valley and fought against the rebels who were opposed to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, yet another illustration of how Pakistan has been furthering the interest of the Taliban.
ISI chief Faiz Hameed had landed in Kabul days before the Taliban mounted a massive air and ground offensive against the Northern Resistance in Panjshir valley.
Pakistani complicity in the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan
For years, Pakistan has pulled the wool over the West’s eyes by making deceptive claims of support to its war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Far from promoting western interests, it was assiduously working to safeguard, nurture and fortify the Taliban. When the west finally decided to call it quits of its disastrous campaign in Afghanistan, the Pakistan-backed Taliban displayed remarkable dexterity in seizing control of Afghanistan.
The lightning offensive of the Taliban, the simultaneous fall of Afghan provinces, the surrender of the Afghan forces, all hint towards a mega plan hatched to lay control of Afghanistan. In the current context and given their historical association with the Taliban, it won’t be a wild exaggeration to surmise Pakistani involvement in the comprehensive takeover of Afghanistan.
The Pakistani complicity in fostering the Taliban was acknowledged by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his first testimony before Congress since the terror group took control of Kabul. Blinken stated that Pakistan is responsible for harbouring the Taliban and the terrorists from the proscribed Haqqani Network.
It is also worth noting that earlier this month, former Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh too accused Pakistan of being in cahoots with the Taliban. He alleged that the Taliban are being micromanaged by Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency–the ISI, adding that Islamabad is in charge of the war-ravaged country effectively as a colonial power.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has also been all praise for the Taliban after it stormed the capital and exerted its control over Afghanistan. Days after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Khan heaped praises on the terror group, congratulating them on their victory and asserting that “Afghanistan had broken the shackles of slavery”.
Well, this is not the first time that Khan has sympathised with the Taliban. Time and again, Khan has hailed the Taliban and spoken in support of the terror outfit. It is his persistent praise and admiration for the Taliban which has earned him the moniker of ‘Taliban Khan’. With the country’s Prime Minister commiserating with the Taliban, it is anybody’s guess how enthusiastic the establishment would be to champion the cause of the Taliban.
Taliban—an offshoot of the Pakistani establishment
As the world grapples with the new reality of a restive Afghanistan under the Taliban, it would be advisable to account for the complicity of Pakistan in its current predicament. There is little doubt that Afghanistan would soon devolve into a Pakistani outpost, where an eclectic group of terrorists would once again find shelter and a conducive environment to wage Islamic jihad against the non-believers.
It is therefore of great consequence to account that not only is Pakistan harbouring and nurturing the Taliban, but it is also the original fountainhead of the terror group, the source from which the Taliban draws its power and perhaps works to fulfil its objectives. The world would be in for another rude shock if it continues to turn a blind eye to Pakistani shenanigans and refuses to treat it for what it is: a rogue terror state.