Afghan Lives Matter: Part 1- Role of Pakistan and her Emerging Dilemma
Amb Amar Sinha

(This article is Part 1 of two parts’ series; second part will be on the Taliban role and what to expect from them and what does one make of the chorus of voices one sees in favour of Taliban and why any such outreach will take us nowhere.)

President Ghani’s direct accusation of Pakistani role and complicity in Taliban’s recent military gains, with PM Imran Khan sitting a few feet away from him at a conference in Tashkent, has been lightly dismissed by some commentators in the media as a result of his current desperation, and his well-known mercurial personality. This may well be true, only partly though. He was articulating a truth that has been known for decades, well documented by Pakistanis as well as foreigners, but the super powers on the losing side, eager to avoid their ignominy at the hands of a rag tag bunch supported by a middle level but impoverished power, have downplayed this aspect over the decades.

There are reports of Pakistani fighters and irregulars along with other foreigners joining hands with the Taliban in the current blitzkrieg witnessed in Afghanistan. While usually Pakistan never takes back the bodies of its dead, the reports of funerals in in its bordering districts (KPK) are being documented. The Doha deal between the US and the Taliban not only gave political space to a movement with a medieval mind set but also injected confidence into its ranks. Pakistan too gained impunity since its dubious role has been spoken about but not questioned yet, so beholden was the US for its role as a facilitator in bringing the Taliban to the table. A rather low bar for the long-time host and supporter of the Taliban!

The Taliban, chuffed at the new found legitimacy, gained in confidence and by last December videos of its leaders visiting their injured cadres recuperating in Pakistani hospitals, and getting trained in camps, ostensibly somewhere in Pakistan, emerged on social media. While the US was preoccupied with a new incoming administration, Kabul was waiting for a review. Evidently, Taliban had other plans which were set in motion soon after the accelerated withdrawal began on 1 May.

As if providing safe havens and sanctuary was not bad enough, the Pakistan Air Force has reportedly extended active air support to the Taliban fighters according to the Afghan Vice President, by warning Afghan Air Force from approaching the Chaman/ Spin Boldak customs border post in Kandahar where a major offensive by the Afghans security forces to take back the customs post was on.

But then developments in Pakistan never cease to surprise and reports came out that 26-year-old daughter of the Afghan Ambassador to Islamabad was reportedly abducted and assaulted by ‘unknown persons’. Though she was released after six hours, this caused a massive surge of anger in Afghanistan leading to recall of Afghan Ambassador. Rather than assuage hurt feelings, through expeditious enquiry and apprehending the guilty, Pakistani Ministers rubbed salt in Afghan wounds by playing down the incident, and making wild allegations about a likely Indian role. Such statements did not wash even with the Taliban forcing them to issue a condemnation. Such actions only show how low the Pakistani ‘deep state’ can descend, with diplomatic norms and basic decency counting for nothing. A former Canadian Ambassador, who knows the region well, tweeted that such occurrences are not unheard of in Islamabad and recalled that agencies have abducted foreign, as well as their own, Ambassadors in the past.

Pakistan has relied on denials and blatant lies. Untruth appears to have been adopted as a second national language. Those who know the lie of the land, including many Pakistanis, know that their agencies, in search of a fictional strategic depth have dragged the country into a hole. As a result, Pakistan has paid a huge cost in human lives, through stalled economic growth and growing radicalization of its society that has ended up providing a fertile ground for extremists of all shades. There is much rejoicing in Pakistan at the destruction of Afghan schools, targeted killing of nationalist Afghans, and support for Taliban is being arranged both in terms of monetary collections and endless supply of manpower. Pakistani Leadership unable to hide their excitement at the prospect of their proxies grabbing power in Kabul, and have started to openly advocate creation of an interim government in Afghanistan and wishing a demise of the current elected government. They have also not hesitated in doing business with the Taliban holding the customs post at Spin Boldak, nor stopped the ‘victory march’ in Quetta taking place in full public view.

In a recent article the renowned Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, not a particular favourite of the establishment in Pakistan quotes from Abdul Salam Zaeef’s biography -My life with the Taliban- which reflects deep displeasure against the Pakistani security establishment. Zaeef was Taliban’s Ambassador to Pakistan when 9/11 attacks happened but was later arrested and handed over to the Americans and spent 4 years as prisoner number 306 at Guantanamo Bay prison.

Describing the Pak establishment Zaeef writes “They have two tongues in one mouth, and two faces on one head so they can speak everybody's language; they use everybody, deceive everybody." Besides personal anguish at the Pakistani betrayal he is also critical of how his colleagues were tortured in Pakistani prisons.
A senior Taliban leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, widely recognized as one of the founders of the Taliban movement, was arrested in Pakistan in 2010. Baradar’s pro peace stance and outreach to Afghan government had infuriated Pakistan leading to his incarceration. According to Mir this treatment of Baradar at the hands of the Pak agencies had encouraged the Taliban to send out feelers to other regional powers.

Pakistan released Baradar in 2018, ostensibly under US pressure, and the Taliban appointed him as the head of the negotiating team in Qatar. The window of opportunity provided by the prolonged negotiations with the US was also used by the Taliban to reach out to several regional countries including China, Russia, Iran and the Central Asian Republics thus loosening the monopoly of Pakistan over them. However, with the top leadership and their families still remaining in Pakistan they are unable to shake off the Pakistani yoke completely. This affects Taliban adversely- by undermining its nationalist credentials which they so assiduously try to project, and also diluting their constant taunt of the Kabul Government a “puppet regime”. An ironic case of a kettle calling the pot black!

The reports of Indian contacts with the Taliban riled the Pakistani establishment sufficiently to evoke an immature reaction from her NSA who appeared to claim proprietary rights over the Taliban, and exposed his zero-sum game mindset.

While Pakistan awaits a Taliban victory, and collapse of the Afghan state, it also braces for the unintended consequences of its success. First and foremost is the backlash within Pakistan and the ‘frisson’ expected to go through the scores of extremist groups that are active in Pakistan. The recent attacks in KPK on Pak military claiming 11 victims, as well the attack near Dasu hydro project in upper Kohistan area, killing 13 including 9 Chinese engineers, is a sinister preview of the likely blowback. This does not augur well for peace and stability in Pakistan which is a precondition for the Chinese BRI projects.

The withdrawal of the Americans also dries up an important source of funds for the Pak establishment making it even more dependent on Chinese munificence. No wonder they have been strongly advocating an active role for the Chinese in stabilising Afghanistan. Chinese, no doubt, have the deepest pocket but expectation of the heavy lifting being outsourced to their ‘iron brothers’ is high. This carries its own rewards but will it compensate for the drying up of American funds? China will not be as dependent as the US on Pakistan for transit, nor does it have plans to deploy troops in Afghanistan that needs Pakistani logistics. Besides Taliban are actively wooing the Chinese government directly, and may remain a step ahead of their Pak handlers. Taliban is aware that without external resources they will not be able to provide even a semblance of governance, and realize the limitations of Pakistan in this regard. They rather drink from the source directly.

Aware of the mutual history, the ferment in their Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, and familiar with the Afghan character and social codes of ‘Pashtunwali’, Pakistan would know that the moment of reckoning is inevitable. Outraging the modesty of a diplomat’s daughter will not be forgiven that easily. Gloating may be short lived but repentance would be at leisure. Afghans may hold Pakistan to account for complete destruction of their nation, even if the US and NATO move on, overlooking the real reason for their humiliation in Afghanistan.

While President Biden may have brought closure to America’s forever war, the forever war in this region seems no where near closure.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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