Geopolitics

Taliban’s Resurgence in Afghanistan: Pakistan’s Duplicity and Liberal World’s Dilemma
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 24 Oct , 2021

TV Screengrab of Taliban Flag Atop Arg

General Zia ul Haq after taking over the reins of the government in Pakistan after a coup in 1977, vigorously embarked on a drive towards the Islamization of his country. He started this by amending the liberal nature of the constitution, introducing Islamic Laws, Islamizing the education system. However, the biggest and the most consequential change he introduced was the radicalization of the army- the defacto ruling apparatus of Pakistan. The motto of the Pakistan army, which was “ittehad, yaqeen aur tanzeem” (unity, faith and discipline) was with one stroke of the pen changed to “imaan, taqwa, jihad fi sabilillah” (faith, piety, holy war in the path of Allah).

The icing on the cake was when Imran Khan, the Pakistan Prime minister was recently seen imploring the world to trust and support Taliban in Afghanistan, in an address to the UN general assembly.

It was just not the change of motto of the Pakistan’s Army but it actually reflected the altered the weltanschauung of, if not complete, then at least,a consequentially large section of the Pakistani society. Taliban owes its birth and origin to Pakistan. They were vigilantes, trained in the most hardline interpretation of Islam in the Madarsas in Pakistan and then trained to fight alongside and provide radical Islamic guidance to the Mujahideens opposing the soviets in Afghanistan.

The arrests of serving and retired Pakistan army officers for their association with various terrorist tanzeems has been commonplace in Pakistan. Many radicalized officers and men of the army have quit the army due to the conflict of their religious ideals with the collaboration between Pakistan and the crusader US and have trained their guns on their fellow serving officers. In 2011, A retired lieutenant colonel of the special service group (SSG) was arrested for supplying among other weapons, grenades 14 missiles to a terrorist tanzeem.

The news of the death of Shahid Aziz, a retired lieutenant general of Pakistan army, while fighting for ISIS in Syria in 2019,though received with feigned surprise in the military circles of Islamabad was actually the culmination of this long process of radicalization of the state and the society. The icing on the cake was when Imran Khan, the Pakistan Prime minister was recently seen imploring the world to trust and support Taliban in Afghanistan, in an address to the UN general assembly.

No wonder then, Pakistan army has very devotedly worked at promoting, training and managing various Islamist groups not only in Afghanistan, India and its neighborhood but all around the globe. The Islamist zeal combined with a myopic and flawed strategic perspective led Pakistan to become the US vendor providing Mujahideen services in Afghanistan. Fast forward to the balkanization of USSR and the US loosing interest in Afghanistan, Pakistan made Afghanistan its vassal state under the Taliban. In 2001 after the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks, the US put Pakistan on notice through the often quoted, “Be ready to be bombed back to stone age” statement attributed to Richard Armitage, the US Assistant Secretary of State for State.

President Musharraf, sensing an economic opportunity in this adversity did an incredible somersault and became an ally of the US in the global war on terrorism (GWOT) codenamed operation enduring freedom. The aim of this operation was the neutralization of the terrorist leaders and their cadres of the Taliban- Al Qaeda combine, destruction of their training camps and infrastructure in Afghanistan, however, this could only be achieved partially owing to the role played by Pakistan. When the coalition forces bombed Kabul in 2001, the Taliban leadership fled Kabul and regrouped in other cities and towns. As the pressure build against other cities by the US backed Northern Alliance and situation became desperate, Pakistan swung into action to evacuate its army officers working as advisers and the crucial Taliban- Al Qaeda leaders. It sent helicopters to Kunduz and Mazar e Sharif for this evacuation operation.

The Afghan political leaders starting from President Hamid Karzai have been quite blunt in condemning Pakistan for its duplicitous role in the GWOT in Afghanistan.

The situation in Afghanistan initially showed improvement but within five years rather than improving started deteriorating due to the perfidious role played by Pakistan. The terror groups’ leaders and the training infrastructure relocated to Pakistan with the approval and complicity of the Pakistan government. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies that claimed to be part of the GWOT and knew the ground realities better than the Americans actually played up the US Forces and orchestrated the escape of Osama Bin Laden from the mountains of Tora Bora to the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Pakistani Frontier Corps that was tasked to seal the border between Tora Bora and the unregulated tribal areas of Pakistan to prevent the escape of Osama Bin Laden may have actually facilitated his escape.

The remnant Taliban- Al Qaeda elements started conducting hit and run attacks against the US led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from across the border in Pakistan. Numerous US commentators and analysts have, on various occasions decried Pakistan for the dubious role it has played as a US ally in Afghanistan. Under President Musharraf, while Pakistan was able to cozen the US to reap huge benefits in the form of financial aid; whenever, there was any talk of Pakistan not doing enough for the GWOT, it would resort to sometimes cajoling and sometimes issuing veiled threats.

The Afghan political leaders starting from President Hamid Karzai have been quite blunt in condemning Pakistan for its duplicitous role in the GWOT in Afghanistan. However, it is important to note that not only the Taliban- Al Qaeda elements attacking the coalition forces in Afghanistan found refuge in Pakistan but various international terrorist plots including the 2005 Transit bombings in London and some other failed terrorist attack attempts were found to have their links to people, organisations and places in Pakistan.

In 2019, Hamdullah Mohib, the National Security Advisor of Afghanistan had called Taliban the proxy of Pakistan ISI. Dawood Moradian, senior policy advisor to the foreign minister of Afghanistan, in 2015, when asked by a journalist if Pakistan ISI is turning a blind eye to the activities of the Taliban in Pakistan’s territory, said that far from it the ISI has been providing strategic direction in choosing the targets and briefing the Taliban leadership on how to shape a favorable public opinion.

Some analysts have averred that Pakistan ISI has not only provided shelter to the Taliban but also funding, medical facilities, training, armament, equipment, supplies and tactical as well as strategic guidance through resident Pakistani military advisors. Naturally then, the ISI maintains an effective and powerful influence over the Taliban- al Qaeda- Haqquani combine’s field operations but also on the strategic thinking of the combine’s leaders. The visits of Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, the director general of ISI to Kabul to adjudicate factional feuds in Taliban over allocation of ministerial berths in the then to be formed government further substantiates that Taliban, is in fact a puppet of the ISI.

The gains of last two decades in the fields of trade and commerce, education, health care, human rights, women empowerment and other metrices of human development index have all been reversed.

Prior to and all through the Doha negotiations, Pakistan has played an active role in shaping global opinion in favour of the Taliban. It has invested significant political and diplomatic capital in convincing the West that the Taliban today is no longer the fundamentalist, ultraorthodox Islamist organisation that it was in the 2000.However, the Pakistani efforts have borne little fruits. The spate of executions, public display of corpses and honoring of the kin of suicide bombers by Taliban has allayed any doubts that the western world harbored.

Thousands of Afghans including erstwhile political leaders, ministers, government officials, aides of the coalition forces and even common citizens have fled Afghanistan as the Taliban was making ingress towards Kabul and unleashed its reign of terror on hapless citizens. Thousands still remain in hiding fearing retributions at the hands of the Taliban.

The gains of last two decades in the fields of trade and commerce, education, health care, human rights, women empowerment and other metrices of human development index have all been reversed. Art and culture have been banned. Women empowerment is an anathema to the medieval thought process of the Taliban. Taliban ministers have called women shelters and women colleges dens of prostitution. Women have been barred from working. Taliban ministers have, on national TV, questioned and then unabashedly rubbished the need for women to be included in the cabinet of ministers. Singers and musicians are being executed. Taliban are becoming increasingly violent and barbaric against common Afghans and hanging of dead enemies at public places has become common.

Lacs have lost their livelihood, and ninety percent of the population is not getting enough food; number of families wherein people are skipping meals or giving food to children instead of adults is steadily growing exponentially by the weeks. Food prices which were already high due to a drought have skyrocketed since the takeover by Taliban. Many lacs could lose access to health care as facilities around the country have either gone into disuse or closed. Afghanistan is facing a perilous economic situation after Western powers suspended foreign aid, and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also halted payments due to the invasion of the country by the Taliban. Around US$ 9 billion of the Afghan Central Bank were also frozen by the Western powers.

The donor nations have pledged more than US$ 1 billion but at the same time expressed hesitation as well as concerns over how the aid will be utilized under the Taliban regime.

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Afghanistan. Even before the Taliban takeover around 20 million people which is roughly half of the entire Afghan population was in need of aid and now with the Taliban takeover the entire population of the country could slide into poverty in a matter of another six months. To tide over the situation an international aid conference of donors was held at Geneve under the auspices of the UN on 13 Sep 2021. The donor nations have pledged more than US$ 1 billion but at the same time expressed hesitation as well as concerns over how the aid will be utilized under the Taliban regime. They are circumspect that providing aid would amount to indirectly recognizing the Taliban government which no nation except Pakistan and China have done so far.

Secondly, the donors also apprehend that the aid could be usurped by the Taliban and may not reach the needy people. Secretary General Guterres, who hosted the meeting, said in his opening remarks that “the people of Afghanistan need a ‘lifeline’ during their most perilous hour. The people of Afghanistan are facing the collapse of an entire country — all at once”. During the conference, Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister expressed concerns about the aid agencies getting ‘proper access’ and the aid workers being able to carry out their work without fear of intimidation and tyranny by the Taliban.

Helping the Afghan people without in any way recognizing or strengthening the Taliban’s new administration is a daunting challenge facing the world powers. The global powers are torn apart by the moral dilemma of wanting to provide humanitarian aid to the Afghan people while not recognizing the terrorist regime in Kabul. The democratic world can use economic aid as a lever against the Taliban in securing for the Afghan people some modicum of human rights, a somewhat representative government and most importantly some concessions for the participation of women in education and other activities of the society.

The only seemingly moderate face at the Doha talks, Abdul Ghani Biradar has been, after a factional feud purportedly orchestrated and then mediated by the ISI, consigned to the fringes in the form of deputy prime minister.

Though the lightening success of the Taliban terrorists in capturing large swathes of Afghan territory and the capitulation of the Afghan military and the government during the withdrawal of coalition forces can be attributed to the faulty Afghan policies of the US, the crucial role played by Pakistan ISI throughout this episode cannot be ignored. Many of the Taliban ministers are UN designated terrorists and carry cash rewards on their heads. Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network — a designated global terrorist group, close to the Pakistani ISI is now the interior minister. Khairollah Sayyed Ali Khairkhwa- a close aid of the terrorist master mind Osama bin Laden, who has spent time in Guantanamo Bay—and was released in a hostage swap deal with the US, is now the information minister.

Maulawi Hidayatullah Badri—a king pin of various Afghan drug cartels and a UN designated terrorist is the finance minister. The only seemingly moderate face at the Doha talks, Abdul Ghani Biradar has been, after a factional feud purportedly orchestrated and then mediated by the ISI, consigned to the fringes in the form of deputy prime minister. There are no women ministers and there is no hope of any being included. The Government is predominantly Pashtun and the earlier pronouncements at Doha of forming an inclusive and truly representative government have proved to be a ruse to sway the international opinion in Taliban’s favour.

Murmurs, albeit muted at the moment, are already being heard about Taliban professing to support their brethren in Palestine, Kashmir and elsewhere. Islamist groups around the world are elated by the astounding victory of the believer Taliban against the crusader kafirs. Kashmir is already witnessing an increase in infiltration attempts and violent incidents in the valley since the second fortnight of September. The scourge of Islamist terror could soon be seen beingexported to the CAR, the Xingjian, North Africa and the West. The promise of not allowing Afghan territory to be used for terror against any country is also turning out to be as hollow as the commitment for an inclusive and representative government.

The two decade long Western presence in Afghanistan could have opened new vistas of peace, development and human progress but Afghanistan has come a full circle— to where it was in Sep 2001.

A bill titled ‘Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight, and Accountability Act’ supported by 20 Republicans introduced in the US Senate aims to put the Taliban government and its sponsor Pakistan on notice. Though the bill is yet at an initial stage, there is growing bipartisan consensus in the US Congress on putting Pakistan on the mat for its double dealings. Pakistan has stayed on the grey list of the FATF for considerable time and has not been able to show improvements on a number of issues red flagged by the FATF. Imposing sanctions would be the appropriate next step to tackle the situation which, if not controlled, can have wider ramifications for the entire South Asia. The violence, repression and trampling of human rights unleashed by the Taliban under the tutelage of Pakistan has reversed the trends of peace, prosperity and progress in Afghanistan.

The two decade long Western presence in Afghanistan could have opened new vistas of peace, development and human progress but Afghanistan has come a full circle— to where it was in Sep 2001.

As a concluding remark one is reminded of the powerful yet ominous words of President George W Bush of 10 Nov 2001,”The attack took place on American soil, but it was an attack on the heart and soul of the civilized world. And the world has come together to fight a new and different war, the first, and we hope the only one, of the 21st century. A war against all those who seek to export terror, and a war against those governments that support or shelter them.”

Nobody can dispute the sentiments expressed by President Bush in this address except for the fact that the developments in Afghanistan belie the hope that this was the only war of 21st century against terror. Security analysts around the world have already begin to portend that the civilized world may soon have to wage another war against those who profess, support and export terror. It is not a question if there will be another war but only when, for the civilized world’s collective conscience cannot be at peace when fellow humans of another nation are supressed, brutalised and denied their basic rights that are taken for granted in other parts of the world.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col Deepak Kumar

is an artillery officer. He has operated in counter insurgencies in Nagaland, Assam and Jammu & Kashmir and also in Line of control environment. He has vast command, staff and instructional experience in technical and tactical aspects of surveillance systems and long range vectors. He been the Chair of Excellence for Defence Services at Observer Research Foundation.

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8 thoughts on “Taliban’s Resurgence in Afghanistan: Pakistan’s Duplicity and Liberal World’s Dilemma

  1. The article covers historical perspective of Taliban in Afghanistan. In the conclusion the authour has mentioned that donor countries are circumspect about misuse of funds . There is a very clear trend by Extremist Regimes, they flaunt sub human conditions of common public to solicit maximum donations to live their life in comfort. This is Tear Jihad..

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