Events in the Af-Pak region are moving at very fast pace with 90 percent of US troop withdrawal already complete. The Pakistani establishment is ecstatic over the Taliban blitzkrieg in Afghanistan. On July 15 Pakistan confirmed Taliban were in control of the border town of Spin Boldak with Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman stating, “They (Taliban) have taken control of the Spin Boldak border crossing.” Zabiullah, Taliban spokesperson also tweeted: “With the important road and customs between Boldak and Chaman coming under control of Mujahidin, the Islamic Emirate assures all traders and residents in the town that security will be tightened.” Taliban also said that they will resume travel and transit on the passage once they will reach an agreement with Pakistan.
Pakistan air force promptly issued an official warning to the Afghan Army and Air Force that any move to dislodge the Taliban from Spin Boldak area will be faced and repelled by the Pakistan Air Force. Afghanistan’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh tweeted that Pakistan air force is providing close air support to the Taliban in certain areas and he can provide proof of it if anyone doubted his statement. Apparently, the Taliban had secured only a part of the Spin Boldak town and not the Spin Boldak-Chaman crossing per se. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) claim they have retaken Spin Boldak from the Taliban – the threat by Pakistani air force to intervene was obviously a spoof.
On July 14, a massive blast in a bus killed nine Chinese nationals among others in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province. Pakistan initially tried to palm it off as an accident but the blast could not be hidden. Beijing promptly postponed meeting of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that was scheduled to be held on July 16 and suspended work on the dam in the area. In an adverse fallout for Pakistan, the Chinese are laying off all Pakistani workers employed. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi meeting his Pakistani counterpart Shah MehmoodQureshi on sidelines of the SCO Foreign Ministers Meet in Dushanbe warned him that such an incident should not reoccur.
Qureshi told Wang Yi that the blast had no terrorist linkages. But fact remains that if you breed reptiles, one should expect to be bitten.Logically, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) should have more Chinese nationals in their crosshairs to discredit the Pakistan government and Pakistan’s treatment of the Pashtuns would have its own repercussions. Beijing can hide the hundreds of dissenters killed within China and number of PLA troops killed in the Galwan clash but incidents like this puncture the aura that President Xi Jinping has built around himself. China is reportedly sending a 15-member delegation to Pakistan for investigating the death of nine Chinese in the bus blast. Aside from warnings, Pakistan should perhaps expect to permanently host few hundred or thousands of PLA disguised as civilians to protect the CPEC and accredited Chinese projects.
Significantly, a number of Chinese Private Military Contractors (PMCs) are already present in Africa as per a Russian expert. Recently a Chinese sporting a PLA-like uniform in a Chinese development project in Sri Lanka was in the news, which caused protests by locals. Chinese PMCs will likely get deployed in Central Asia, Myanmarand other countries as well to protect Chinese workers. However in the case of Pakistan, Bejingmay prefer PLA given the volatility of the environment.
At the recent Central-South Asia Conference held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on July 15-16, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated in presence of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that Pakistan has not severed its relationships with terrorist organization and that more than 10,000 jihadi fighters entered Afghanistan in the last month while Pakistan had failed to convince the Taliban to participate seriously in the peace talks. Ghanisaid, “Contrary to repeated assurances by Prime Minister Khan and his Generals that Pakistan does not find a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan inPakistan’s interests and short of use of force will use its power and influence to make the Taliban negotiate seriously, networks and organizations supporting the Taliban are openly celebrating the destruction of the assets and capabilities of the Afghan people and State.” As Ghani was speaking, the camera caught Imran Khan grinningaway at Ghani’s discomfiture.
On July 17, the Afghan Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Silsila Alikhil, 26 year old daughter of Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan Najibullah Alikhil was abducted on her way home in Islamabad, severely tortured and released after more than five hours. Silsila’sphotograph showing torture marks on her face have appeared on Twitter. This could well be the handiwork of Pakistan’s ISI – response to President Ghani revealing Pakistan’s double game during inauguration of the Central-South Asia Conference at Tashkent on July 15 and/or frustration over the ANSF having ousted the Taliban from border town of Spin Boldak.
A new round of inter-Afghan talks in the presence of high-ranking Afghan politicians have begun on July 17 in the capital of Qatar, Doha, against the backdrop of the raging Taliban offensive in Afghanistan. The talks are being held behind closed doors but according to some sources the discussion is likely to be about establishment of a transitional government in Afghanistan, exchange of prisoners and a ceasefire. Earlier the Taliban had already indicated possibility of a 3-month ceasefire if their balance 7,000 prisoners are released and the UN removes Taliban leaders from the ‘black list’. These demands will unlikely be met in full, not by the UN anyway. The talks are a game being played by the Taliban and any ceasefire will be used to consolidate and renew the offensive.
US special representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad while attending the regional connectivity conference at Tashkent has said that the recent gains by Taliban were “unexpected”. Such a statement coming from Khalizad is simply ridiculous after he sold the so-called US-Taliban peace deal drafted by Taliban and promoted by Pakistan to the Trump Administration. Was Zalmay working for Taliban-Pakistan or the US? He now says, “We will not recognize or assist Taliban that takes power by force.” Taliban care two hoots for recognition and as far as assistance goes, Zalmay has already done what he could through the bogus peace deal.
John Bolton, former national security advisor to Donald Trump told CNN recently, “We were not defeated. To lose the war, you must be defeated. We gave up because we lost our patience. This is a sad characteristic of the current administration, but it is not a defeat for the United States.” Bolton’s criticism came after former US President George W Bush, under whom the US deployed troops to Afghanistan in October 2001, called the withdrawal of the US military a mistake.
A more focused view has come from General David Petraeus who had commanded the coalition forces in Afghanistan by telling media, “I expect we will see al-Qaeda and the IS affiliate in the Af-Pak region, the Khorasan Group, seek to establish sanctuaries in Taliban-controlled territory – just as al-Qaeda established its sanctuary in Eastern Afghanistan when most of the country was under Taliban control in the late 1990’s, and planned the 9/11 attacks.”
US officials do not see any future threat to the US homeland after abandoning Afghanistan into chaos. But can that be said with certainty with respect to the Af-Pak region; with Pakistan sitting in China’s lap, US-China and US-Russian hostility and Xi Jinping’s dream of world domination? How much is the effort really required to execute another 9/11 type of terror attack? Witness America’s political environment with statements that Trump wanted to engineer a coup. Would another 9/11 type attack engineered from Af-Paknot discredit the Biden administration enough, leaving the only option of random bombings?Wouldn’t the opposition in America love that?