‘The Afghanistan counter terrorism, oversight and accountability Act’ seeks a report from the Secretary of State about his assessment of Pakistan’s role in supporting the Taliban from 2001-2021; in the offensive that led to the toppling of the government of Afghanistan and the looking into the Pakistan support for Taliban offensive against Panjshir Valley and Afghan resistance’ – A Times of India report dated 30 Sep 2021.
It is an open secret what US Congress is trying to probe now, a fact well known all through two decades of US campaign in Afghanistan. There is a consensus across the world in diplomatic circles as regards to complicity of Pakistan in Afghan affairs and her apparent control over Taliban political narrative. The composition of care taker government clearly speaks of Pakistani foot prints in Afghan polity as of now. There is an ample evidence of training, arming, financing and providingoperating bases to Afghan rebels against the foreign intrudersspanning over four decades. It’s a payback time for Taliban.
Pakistan has used state sponsored jihad as a mechanism to push their political agenda in most audacious and innovative ways.Pakistani patronage to Taliban has been a major contributingfactor in defeating best of world militaries by the Afghan insurgents operating in grey zone. So, what constitutes Pakistani political chemistry that is seemingly difficult to fathom and control even by the strong and mighty. Let’s decipher.
The answer lies in geography of Pakistan which became land ofstrategic import ever since the oil and gas was found in tracks contiguous to British India on cusp of the century. This geographical space was also considered as forward bastion to check spread of communism in the post world war era. Apropos, Indus basin alongside Afghanistan became the frontier which could take care of British strategic interests even after their departure. The British, accordingly, planned to create a small nation based on religion which could be manipulated at will for their political purposes. Their vision was so correct, except that Pakistan outsmarted them.
The US emerged as the leading power of the Western world taking over the political legacy of the British. The cold war canvas brought US and Russia in confrontation for dominance of Asian energy belts for overall supremacy. Afghanistan by virtue of its location was the first stop for their competitive geo political turf battle. Russia in a pre emptive move intervened militarily in 1979 to check possible western expansion.
It catapulted Pakistan as a frontline state in US political calculusbeing contiguous to Afghanistan for their counter moves. The concept of Taliban took shape on Pakistani soil with US supportto create a force of Islamic fanatics, a mechanism to rally Afghans against Russian intrusion. The experiment proved to be a success as Taliban factor turned out to be one of the major reasons of Russian withdrawal in 1989.
Taliban succeeded in establishing their government in 1996 after evicting Northern Alliance from power. However, it was their apparent complicity in Al Qaida sponsored 9/11 episode whichgave an excuse to US to intervene in 2001. One of the appreciated reasons for US intervention was to occupy thestrategic space vacated by the Russia in Central Asia. It was continuation of old geo political play list wherein US chose to be physically present in landlocked Afghanistan to avoid any fresh challenge.
The US, all through two decades, had a compulsion to depend on Pakistan for logistics sustenance of forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan, accordingly, continued to be a close ally and confidant of US that had been consistently helping US in their time of need. Pakistan exploited this vulnerability of US to extract financial and military aid worth $ 80 billion in the name of assisting US in their anti Taliban campaign. Whereas, Pakistanplayed a double game on the quiet by continuing support toTaliban heretofore providing sanctuaries and resources to them.Despite knowing such a deceit and duplicity, US was compelled to take Pakistan on board to facilitate US – Taliban reconciliation talks at Doha.
Consequent to US withdrawal, they seems to be keen to establish military facilities in Pakistan in order to keep an eye on Afghanistan. Pakistan is known to have shown reluctance for such a proposal probably under Chinese pressure. Pakistan understands this US compulsion and they may well be using it as a leverage to extract higher political mileage. However, this equation may change paving way to both patching up once dust settles down in Afghanistan.
The main opponent to US interests this time is China that seems to be making efforts to take Afghanistan under their folds. The recent Chinese overreach to Taliban alongside their political presence in Pakistan has direct impact on US strategic calculus.China is looking at connectivity to the Eurasian landscape through Afghanistan to push their BRI scheme and access to mineral resources of Afghanistan.
The US geo political shift to the South China Sea has further increased the Chinese stakes in CPEC as it provides alternate route for their economic expansion. Hence, there is a strategic hydraulics that seems to be emerging wherein Pakistan would beimportant to both US as well as China in their grand game.Pakistan is in a pivotal position and she has to take a call.
Russia is the third component in the emerging geo political canvas which is seen to be aligned with both Taliban as well as Pakistan. Russia has not recognised the Taliban government though going by her assertive political bent and military credentials it is in a position to occupy the strategic space vacated by the US. Presently Russia is looking at sanitizing herterritory and areas of dominance against terror afflictions that have bases in Afghanistan. While Russia is unlikely to opt for physical intervention, she may be open to provide militarysupport to Taliban and Pakistan to keep them under their influence. There are reports of Russian military presence on the periphery of Afghanistan, probably to take care of any inimical contingencies.
Russia and China have reasonably high political synergy and likely to share the strategic dividends of US exit. Russia is already on board the CPEC band wagon looking at their accessto the Indian Ocean, an ambition since Czarist era. Pakistan, therefore, has become essential for the emerging Russia, China and Pakistan axis. Pakistan on their part is looking at boost to her military deterrence against India, besides politico-economic dividends. Afghanistan under Taliban is likely to be an extension of this alliance providing strategic depth to Pakistan and facilitating political expansion of Russia and China.
While Pakistan has been facilitating strategic interests of US and China through their geography, they have denied the same to her peer group. Pakistan does not allow India to use their territory to access Afghanistan and CAR for trade and other transit purposes. Similarly, they pulled out from Iran-Pakistan-India pipe line deal denying Iranian access to Indian markets for sale of their oil and gas. This has forced India to construct Chabaharport in concert with Iran to access heart of Asia. It shows that Pakistan uses her geography as a political instrument manipulating it as it suits her intents and interests.
The second opportunist move of Pakistan lies in her practice to mix religion with politics in a well calibrated manner to heradvantage. The transformation came during General Zia ulHaq’s time wherein vibrancy of an emerging democracy was diluted by strains of political Islam. It helped Pakistan army to tightening their grip over internal political dissent and ensuring their predominance in matters of state. The Kashmir narrativehas been used as a mechanism for convergence of Islamic solidarity for national cohesion and also patronage of Muslimfraternity.
Pakistani support to Taliban and Palestinian cause is part of their religious narrative to invoke passions to evict intruders fromIslamic lands. This format has suited Pakistan in multiple ways including extracting liberal financial aids from rich Islamic nations. Islamic doctrine of jihad and its constitutional obedience by the ‘Believers’ is central to their political concept that seems to have pushed the boundaries through acts of terror. It is besides the point that they look other way when it comes to Chinese atrocities against Muslim population in Xinjiang. It exposes their intentions of using religious prudence for their selfish opportunist motives.
The third political strength of Pakistan lies in her nuclear credentials, the only Islamic country possessing such a proven capability. While Iran is also known to have nucleartechnology, but she is under commitment to restrict it to peaceful purposes even through the Iranian nuclear deal is under shadow as of now. Whereas, there is no such embargo in case ofPakistan as US as well as China have been patronizing them all this time and now it is too late to make amends. Pakistan, very cleverly, has pushed the idea of possibility of nuclear assets falling in the hands of the terror goups, thereby hinting at catastrophic consequences sans their accountability.
Pakistan, therefore, is in leadership space for entire the Islamic world when it comes to confrontation of extreme kind for the religious cause. Pakistani President ZA Bhutto had named thenuclear project as ‘Islamic bomb’ with an eye for political centrality and cash inflow from rich nations. It is the nuclear calculus that seems to have emboldened Pakistan to indulge in acts of militancy across the world with impunity. Pakistani play list of terror activity spans across India, Afghanistan and Iran, besides support base for varied terror groups beyond her periphery.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has initiated rebalancingof geo political turfs paving way to new contingencies and concomitant power play. US is unlikely to accept anyone occupying the strategic space vacated by them despite their changed priorities. China is desperate to seek access to her markets and energy sources through land routes circumventing vulnerable sea space. Russia is seeking access to Indian Ocean to increase her geo political influence to re emerge as a super power. ‘The bear hug from Mediterranean to Indian Ocean’ maybe a reality soon.
Pakistan nurtures concept of strategic depth against India by keeping Taliban in power and under their control. Turkey is aspiring to step in as a leader of Islamic world with bandwagonof few non Arab nations backing them. Afghanistan is also part of Turkish interests for their economic connectivity with China. Iran despite sectarian divide with Sunni dispensation of Taliban is seen to be cozying up with them to facilitate $ 400 billion trade understanding with China. In such a self centered vicious environment, India is the only country that has development and welfare of Afghan people as the purpose of her political outreach.
It is the trilogy of geography, religion and nuclear capability that Pakistan exploits for her political purposes. It is expected to continue centrality of Pakistan in geo politics of the region with inherent leverages. Therefore, someone or other would always bail them out of their crisis situation to safe guard their political interests. There is also an element of calibrated unpredictability and irrationality in their dubious political discourse. Accordingly, one needs to be extra innovative to deal with such a country that draws its strength primarily from external vectors instead of their own internal synergies.
Indian state needs to decipher and understand Pakistani DNA known for generating negativities in most innovative and different ways. Moreover, Pakistan has nothing to lose being on the verge of a failed state, and that happens to be another virtueby default. It is a big challenge and cannot be handled by conventional mindset and methods. The way to go is by opting for out of box approach to dislocate Pakistan from their current political discourse and doctrine of terror.
A UN sponsored collective action to impose economic sanctions and seizing control of Pakistani nuclear arsenal would be essential to make amends to existing terror centric political matrix of Pakistan. Similarly, Taliban need to be forced to include representation of all the sections of Afghan society in the interim government, subsequently leading to an elected dispensation. It is a defining time and we need to be pro active in rallying the world opinion to bring Pakistan and Taliban to book. Earlier we do it , better it would be for the world peaceand our national security.