The role of Pakistan in the Taliban insurgency
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Issue Courtesy: Uday India | Date : 09 Sep , 2014

The name Afghanistan means the land of the Afghans. The origins of the name Afghan remain unclear. Its use dates from the 18th century, when Pashtun tribes began to carve out a region of Central Asia as their sovereign base. As the British Empire expanded, it tried to place the Pashtuns under their rule. Throughout the 19th century, British Indian Military units tried to control the recalcitrant Afghan tribes who may or may not have preferred rule by other Afghans, but certainly opposed that of the British. The frontier Pashtun tribes continue to bedevil Afghan Pakistan relations today since the Pakistanis have inherited the British mantle in this region.

Al Qaeda was both a client of and a patron of the Taliban, which in turn was supported by Pakistan.

The Land and Its People

The Pashtuns form the most important and the most numerous ethnic group in Afghanistan. The twin terms Pashtun and Pakhtun refer to the two separate confederations of tribes, the Abdali or Durrani tribes based in the Kandahar-Herat region and the Ghilzai based in the Nangarhar-Paktia region, who together with the eastern tribes in Pakistan speak the Pashtun dialect. The tribes that belong to neither confederacy, the Afridi, Khattak, Orakzai, Waziri, Mahsud were designated as the hill tribes by the British though increasingly they came under the term Pashtun for the sake of convenience.

The characteristics of Pashtun form the stuff of tales from Rudyard Kipling to George Macdonald Fraser. The 17th century Pashtun poet and warrior Kushal Khan Khattak depicts the acme of Pashtun manhood as brave, love smitten, honourable and heroic. The Pashtuns are overwhelmingly Sunni of the Hanafi School of law. They are known for their Pashtun code or Pashtunwali, the tribal code of honour, which includes Melmastia, or hospitality, Nanawati, the notion that hospitality can never be denied to a fugitive and badal, the right of revenge. Pashtun honour is maintained by constant feuding, revolving around Zar (gold), Zan (woman) and Zamin (land).

The Tadjiks speak Afghan, Persian or Dari and live in northern, northwestern and western Afghanistan. Related to the Tadjiks are the Farsiwan, also Sunni, the Quizilbash and the Hazara, both Shia. Besides these there are Turkic people, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Kazakhs, all Sunni. In the West bordering Iran are the Heratis who are Shia.

It can be clearly seen from the demographic composition of Afghanistan, that its population is heterogeneous. However over the years the Pashtuns have consecrated to themselves that they are the rulers of Afghanistan. This has not gone down well with the people other than the Pashtuns. The crux of the problem in Afghanistan is that for generations the leadership of the Pashtuns had not been challenged by the other groups- the Tadjiks, Uzbeks, the Quizilbash, Turkmen, Farsiwan and the Heratis. Also, the division between the Sunni and the Shia was not as unmanageable as is the situation today. The crux of the problem has been because of the divide between the Western world and the Islamic world that has automatically exacerbated with the extremist Islamic groups becoming well defined like the Jammat Ulema Islam, the Ahle Hadis, and the Wahabi sect from Saudi Arabia. These groups have not taken kindly to the more moderate Shia, or the Jammat-e-Islami practiced by the Tadjiks, Uzbeks. To take a specific example, the Hazaras are Shias, yet the Hazara women represent their community in their defence leadership. This stand is not acceptable to the Pashtun Jamaat-e-Ulema-i-Islam.

The warlords sold off everything as scrap to Pakistan traders to make money-factories, machinery and even road rollers. The warlords abused the population at will kidnapping young boys and girls for their sexual pleasure.

The Mujahideen and The Holy War

Actually the whole issue got stratified with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Nearly three million Pashtuns fled to Pakistan as refugees from the Godless Russians. The Interior Minister of Pakistan happened to be a patron of the Jammat-e-Ulema-I-Islam or Deobandi sect. He immediately began to set up Madrassas of the JUI. All the children of the three million Afghan refugees mainly Pashtun were accommodated in the JUI Madrassas set up then. Thus whole generations of Talibs-students of the JUI Seminaries were schooled in the Deobandi sect of hard Islam. When the Russians were defeated, and retreated to the Soviet Union, the Pashtun had been well converted to the Deobandi philosophy. The first casualty of this development was the divide that manifested between the Pashtuns on the one hand and the other groups of Afghanistan-the Tadjiks, the Uzbeks, the Hazaras, Quizilbash and the Heratis. This divide got very badly exacerbated by the horrifying massacres that the Pashtun committed on the Tadjiks, Hazaras, Heratis and the Uzbeks over the years.

The Battle for Kabul and the Rise of the Taliban

The Mujahideen captured Kabul in1992. Kabul did not fall to the well armed Pashtun parties in Peshawar, but to the better organised and well armed and more united Tadjik forces of Burhanuddin Rabbani and his military Commander Ahmed Shah Masood and to the Uzbek leaders from the north under Rashid Dostum. This was a devastating blow to the Pashtuns, because for the first time in 300 years they had lost control of Kabul. An internal civil war began immediately as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar attempted to rally the Pashtuns and laid siege to Kabul shelling the city mercilessly.

Afghanistan was in a virtual state of disintegration by the end of 1994. The country was divided into warlord fiefdoms that had fought switched sides and fought again in a bewildering array of alliances, betrayals and bloodshed. The predominantly Tadjik government of Burhanuddin Rabbani controlled Kabul, its environs and the northeast of the country. Three provinces of the country centering on Herat were controlled by Ishmael Khan. In the east on the Pakistan border three Pashtun provinces were under the control of a Shura or council of Mujahideen commanders based in Jalalabad. In the north Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord held sway over six provinces. In central Afghanistan, the Hazaras controlled Bamiyan. Southern Afghanistan and Kandahar were divided among dozens of ex-Mujahideen warlords and bandits who plundered the population at will. The warlords sold off everything as scrap to Pakistan traders to make money-factories, machinery and even road rollers. The warlords abused the population at will kidnapping young boys and girls for their sexual pleasure.

The war, wrote Samuel Huntington left behind an unusual combination of Islamist organisations intent on promoting Islam against all non Islamic forces. It also left behind a legacy of expert and experienced fighters, training camps and logistical facilities, elaborate trans Islamic networks, a substantial amount of military equipment, including several hundred Stinger Missiles and most important a heady sense of power and self confidence over what had been achieved and a driving desire to move on to other victories.

Pakistan had three aims for Afghanistan. They did not want Indian hegemony in the region. They wanted a pro Pakistan Government in Afghanistan. They wanted to promote the Kashmir cause.

When the fight against the Russian began, a Jordanian Abdullah Azam came to Afghanistan and organised the hundreds of Islamic fighters who had assembled to fight the Godless Russians. Saudi funds flowed to Azam and then an ultra rich Arab, son of a very rich contractor in Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden joined hands with Abdullah Azam. After organizing the hundreds of Islamic fighters coming to fight the Russians, bin Laden befriended Mullah Omar who had been made the leader of the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and the Frontier Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan by the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Osama bin Laden then moved to Kandahar to help Mullah Omar.

Meanwhile, the United States had invaded Iraq, under the mistaken conclusion that the President of Iraq, Saddam Hussain had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. This was simply a very foolish and immature decision. It rallied all the forces that were opposed to the United States. Osama bin Laden who had invested his vast enormous bank balance in financing the insurgent groups to fight the Russians in Afghanistan now turned his attention to the United States. The movement that started soon developed into a plan to attack the United States in their territory. A group called the Al Qaeda was formed with terrorist fighters from several groups who were fighting the Russians in Afghanistan forming a nucleus. The plan to train a group of terrorists to carry out suicide attacks on a landmark target in the United States was hatched. A group was formed from terrorists operating in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East. The plan was for four selected teams to learn flying from Flying Schools in the United States and then fly hijacked airliners and crash them into selected skyscrapers in the United States.

The George Bush administration took office in the beginning of 2001. Gen. Musharraf who was the President of Pakistan found that it was easier to deal with President George Bush, than President Clinton. Whereas Clinton resisted the wool being pulled over his eyes, the Bush administration simply closed their eyes themselves! The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued 216 internal threat warnings about the possibility of an attack by Al Qaeda between January and September 2001, while the National Security Agency reported thirty three intercepts indicating possible Al Qaeda attacks. Richard Clark wrote to Condoleesa Rice, the Secretary of State on 28 June 2001 saying that warnings of an imminent attack had reached a crescendo. Years later Condoleesa Rice admitted her failure when she stated –“America’s Al Qaeda policy wasn’t working, because our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working, and our Afghanistan policy was not working because our Pakistan policy was not working. Al Qaeda was both a client of and a patron of the Taliban, which in turn was supported by Pakistan.

The Taliban had been nurtured by the army since long and for Pakistan they represented the future of Afghanistan!

Then on 11 September, two hijacked planes slammed into the twin Trade Towers in New York. US Intelligence realised that it was the Al Qaeda, based in Afghanistan and aided indirectly by Pakistan that had perpetrated this terrifying attack on the United States. The next morning Richard Armitage Deputy Secretary of State of the United States summoned the Pakistan Ambassador and Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed, the Pakistan ISI Chief and delivered the strong message of the US President “Either you are with us or with the Terrorists.” The next morning the Pakistan President was asked to intercept all arms shipments from Pakistan to Afghanistan, ending of all logistics support to the Al Qaeda, and access to airports in Pakistan for US military air craft for operations against Al Qaeda. Gen. Musharraf after consulting his generals agreed.

On the evening of 7 October 2011the US attack on the Taliban commenced as 50 Cruise missiles and dozens of laser guided bombs hit thirty one targets around all the major cities of Afghanistan. The bombing continued for four weeks. This naturally weakened the Taliban positions and the first breakthrough came when Dostum’s Uzbeks led cavalry charges against fixed Taliban positions and routed them. Some eight thousand Talibs retreated in their pickups. Several thousand Talibs were killed as they retreated as the US Air force targeted the retreating Taliban. Three days after the fall of Mazar-e-Sharief, the Northern Alliance captured the whole of Northern, Western, and Central Afghanistan.

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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

EN Rammohan

former Director General of BSF

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