It was in the context of this political and military stalemate that in 1993, Pakistan set about creating a new force to dislodge the Northern Alliance from Kabul. This new force consisted of just 5000 young men who during the decade long Soviet occupation had grown up in the Afghan refugee camps along the Pakistan side of the border and were educated in the numerous Saudi-run religious schools known as Madrassas. Already steeped and indoctrinated in Wahabism, this group was named as Taliban (plural of ‘Talib’ meaning ‘student’) was trained, armed and equipped by the ISI and the Pakistan Army. Funds came from fundamentalist regimes in the Middle East. Complemented by officers and JCOs of Pakistan Army, the Taliban under the leadership of Mullah Omar, a veteran of the war against Soviet Union, was inducted in 1994 into Kandahar, a Pashtun stronghold. Incidentally, this was the very route followed by Nader Khan in 1929 who raised a force in India to dislodge the non-Pushtun regime Bacha-e-Saqao in Kabul.
The presence of Osama bin Laden in a military cantonment near Islamabad should dispel all doubts about Pakistans true position in the US-led global war against terrorism.
After induction of the Taliban into Kandahar in 1994, its ranks swelled rapidly to 40,000 on account of the large number of jobless but armed Pashtun Mujahideen skilled only in the art of pulling the trigger, jumping on to the bandwagon. The highly motivated Taliban fought their way Northwards from Kandahar, often suffering very heavy casualties in several battles against the Northern Alliance that proved disastrous for them. Sustained by an endless supply of recruits from the refugee camps in Pakistan, by 1996, the Taliban had captured Kabul and set up a very cruel and oppressive government there. Guided and supervised by Pakistan, by 1998, the Taliban had established control over 90 per cent of the territory of Afghanistan. Incidentally, as stated briefly earlier, the entire scheme to create the Taliban to dislodge the Northern Alliance from power was approved by the US as it served their interest immensely to have a strong fundamentalist force in Afghanistan to checkmate Iran especially as Saddam Hussein was no longer available. The job done, the US turned away leaving Afghanistan to its own fate; but not for long. The attack of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centre sent the US hurtling back into the Afghan imbroglio.
The Afghan Taliban and Pakistan
Even though Pakistan has been a staunch ally of the US and a partner in the global war against terror, the campaign by US forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan has not exactly been in Pakistan’s security or strategic interests. For Pakistan, the Taliban which consists of Pashtuns, is a strategic asset through which it was able to subdue the Northern Alliance and control practically the whole of Afghanistan. But the US launched an assault on the Taliban regime in October 2001 jointly with the armed forces of the United Kingdom and the Northern Alliance to disrupt Al Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power. Neither of these stated objectives of the US were congruent with Pakistani interests but having joined the global war against terror under threat by the US of being “bombed into stone age”, Pakistan had no option but to pretend to collaborate with the US in their campaign against terror. Thus it was that Pakistan resorted to a policy of duplicity i.e. “running with the hare and hunting with the hounds”.