Afghanistan’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh is confident that captured Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) chief Aslam Farooqi will prove to be “treasure of intelligence.” What Saleh says certainly carries a lot of weight, not because he’s the Vice President of Afghanistan, but since he has been the chief of Afghanistan’s premier intelligence Agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS) for more than six years (2004-2010) as well the country’s former Minister of Interior Affairs (2018 -2019).
Saleh is a no-nonsense man. According a report in The Guardian, he had enraged Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007, by saying that he was confident that fugitive Al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden was not holed up in Afghanistan but instead was hiding in Manshera, a stone’s throw from the city of Abbottabad. In an apparent fit of rage (or perhaps due to discomfiture on account of Saleh’s near-accurate information regarding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden), a fuming Musharraf told Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai “Why have you have brought this Panjshiri guy to teach me intelligence?”
Saleh is also the one who during the Tehran Security Forum in 2018, had said, “The presence of ISIS (IS-K) in Afghanistan is not genuine. It is an intelligence game played by some of our neighbours.” But as he was the Interior Minister at that time, diplomatic conventions prevented him from specifying who exactly was the patron of IS-K. But now that the so called ‘amir’ of this terrorist group is in NDS custody, Saleh’s tweet highlighting that Farooqi is a “Pakistani national” who “will sing more to the dismay of his patrons in and out,” leaves nothing to imagination.
Furthermore, Islamabad’s frantic attempt to secure the custody of Farooqi betrays its uneasiness with him being in Afghan hands. Islamabad’s conundrum is understandable as Farooqi will most certainly “sing” and what he has to say will expose the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which as we all know is Rawalpindi’s ‘dirty tricks’ department. But while there are great expectations that Aslam Farooqi’s revelations will completely expose the Pakistan Army’s nexus with terrorist groups, one needs to guard against over-optimism since there are bright chances that the ‘lyrics’ we end up hearing may not be as damning as Saleh hopes, and the reason for this is simple.
Islamabad, which has the most to lose from IS-K chief’s candid confessions, has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Pakistan-based Quetta Shura of the Taliban, which is the key player as far as US- Taliban peace accord is concerned. Islamabad has been successfully playing the Taliban card to have its way, ever since 2001, when Washington committed its troops in Afghanistan. Whereas Islamabad may have been talking a lot about its war on terror, but it never discontinued providing safe havens to the Taliban and other terrorist groups that it had created even though they are fighting against the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.
When even former the US Vice President Dick Cheney failed to convince Musharraf “to do more” against anti-US terrorist groups, President George Bush was left with no other option but to issue a secret executive order in July 2008 that allowed US forces in Afghanistan to conduct anti-terrorist operations inside Pakistan without informing or taking Islamabad’s permission. The fact that US Navy Seals supported by attack helicopters did raid a terrorist safe-haven in Pakistan’s tribal belt two months later proves that ultimately, even Bush had to reconcile to the idea that US forces would have to take-out the Taliban on its own since Islamabad will never ever abandon the Taliban and other terrorist groups that it considers to be its ‘strategic assets’!
Similarly, under Obama too, the Taliban enjoyed unfettered access to safe havens in Pakistan. In fact, in 2016, Sartaj Aziz who was then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s special adviser on foreign affairs admitted that “…we have some influence on them (Taliban) because their leadership is in Pakistan, and they get some medical facilities; their families are here,” and boasted, “…so we can use those levers to pressurise them to say ‘come to the table’.” What is ironical is that these statements confirming that Islamabad was sleeping with Taliban were made during a panel discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations held on American soil– and that too in its capital city, Washington! No wonder Obama didn’t inform Islamabad about the details of ‘Operation Geronimo’ to get Osama bin Laden, as the US had no faith in the Pakistan Army!
Some thought that things would finally change when President Donald Trump, ushered in new year 2018 by tweeting “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” But, instead of mending its ways, Islamabad, (under instructions of the army) decided to brazen it out and played its ‘ace’ by pressurising the Taliban to threaten the peace accord with Washington, and like always, it worked yet again!
Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, (the de facto decision maker in Pakistan) knows that it’s election year in America and he’s fully aware of how badly Trump needs the US-Taliban accord in order to get his troops back home before the elections. So, it goes without saying that Islamabad will surely demand that Washington instructs Kabul to ensure that the IS-K chief’s revelations have the requisite degree of ambiguity so that it doesn’t inextricably nail Pakistan Army’s nexus with terrorist groups. Let’s not forget that if Pakistan can (in the words of Sartaj Aziz), “use those levers to pressurise them (Taliban) to say ‘come to the table’,” it can very well use the same “levers” to ensure that they ‘leave the table’!
For Trump to bully his way with Kabul is no big deal. Four decades of conflict has turned Afghanistan into a veritable wasteland and Trump knows that any government in Afghanistan cannot survive without substantial aid. So, in order to prevent Islamabad from playing its ‘Taliban card’ once again and wrecking the peace accord, Washington can easily hammer-out a ‘deal’ by promising aid to Kabul provided it in turn ensures that revelations of the captured IS-K chief gives Pakistan adequate scope to get off the hook as far as its shameless patronage of terrorist groups is concerned. This would be a ‘win-win’ situation for all, except those massacred by IS-K and their grieving families.
But then how does it matter for the US and Pakistan, and more importantly, who cares!