Pakistan has a direct hand in Afghanistan crisis and chaos

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Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. (File Photo: AP)
Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. (File Photo: AP)

The irony of fate is that a country whose people have defended their freedom for centuries through sweat and blood has now become the battleground for the actors of the old “Great Game” directly or through proxies. Those who fought and drove away the intruders have now fallen apart like hungry wolves seeking one another’s blood. Some say that Afghanistan is the last theatre of several centuries’ old ideological war between the diehard Islamic orthodoxy and modernism.

Withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, in no less ignominious a manner than the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1990, leaves behind a trail of uncertainties and also the looming threat of unimaginable catastrophe. The unsparing hand of history has exposed the immaturity and arrogance of both world powers in dealing with Afghanistan, the proverbial graveyard of the big powers.

The Soviets were aware of the intrepidity of Afghans in resisting southward push of Marxist ideology across the Oxus (Amu Darya) and beyond the Badakhshan Mountain. But unfortunately, intoxicated with the victory over Nazism, the Soviets did not show patience for formulating a workable option of pursuing their objective in the resolutely independent tribal state of Afghanistan. They had thought that the superficial groundwork done by a feigned leftist group would serve their purpose of reaching the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. History proved them wrong.

The policy of invoking Islamism, theoretically as well as militarily, for realizing political objective of forcing a disgraceful retreat on the Soviets in Afghan war was tantamount to playing with fire. American policy planners did not visualize the long-term consequences of arming the time-hardened Afghan fighters steeped in the conservatism of middle ages. It cost the US not only nearly five thousand precious lives of her soldiers fighting against the mujahedeen, the legions they had deeply patronized now become the auxiliary to Al-Qaeda and Taliban, but also several trillions of dollars to run the anti-Taliban war machine for two decades, and finally, take to their heels from Bagram air base at the dead of night leaving everything behind.

Thus, in a bid to show down the Soviets, the Americans added an unprecedented chapter of terror and bloodshed to the world history in the name of service to democracy, leaving the beleaguered and innocent people in vulnerable parts of the globe to be decimated and destroyed by a surge of Theo-fascism many times more devastating than communism.

The US has now dragged its feet from war-torn Afghanistan leaving the nationalist Afghans and pro-democracy forces in a quandary. Not only the people and the administrative machinery in Afghanistan are cast on the horns of dilemma, even the neighbouring states like India, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation are seriously watching the situation. The speed with which the Taliban are capturing strategic locations and border crossing points indicates that Kabul may capitulate sooner than later.

The Taliban claim they are in control of 85 per cent of Afghan territory. Many countries have already recalled the staff in their missions in Afghanistan. India has also withdrawn its diplomatic staff from Kabul. The national forces are fighting the Taliban bravely but we don’t think that retiring Americans have left behind for them any strong and decisive resistance mechanism to ensure that the government in Kabul does not collapse. The Afghans are left to fend for themselves.

It is obvious that President Ashraf Ghani will appeal friendly countries and also the countries wedded to democratic ideology to come to the help of the beleaguered Afghan nation. But no country seems ready to promise military support in given situation because the situation is too complicated and problematic. It has international ramifications.

The Taliban have issued warning that no country should take the risk of offering military support to the national government in Kabul and if any country makes a venture like that, it will have to face serious consequences.

On the eve of Tashkent conference the Afghan Vice President has accused Pakistan of threatening to fire missiles and destroy the Afghan fighter jets if the latter try to bombard Spin Boldak border crossing. President Ashraf Ghani has repeated the charge to which Imran Khan has said that these charges are baseless and regrettable.

Collapse of Kabul regime and return of Taliban to power will be a major setback to democracies in the Asian region. Although the Taliban have made it clear more than once that they do not carry their fight to countries outside Afghanistan, yet Taliban’s long association with Al-Qaeda and ISIS have the potential to change the ground situation irrespective of what the Afghan Taliban would say. There are undeniable proofs with the stakeholders that show Pakistan’s clandestine role in boosting the morale of the Afghan Taliban not only in theory but in practice as well. The evidence available is good enough to change to course of events and put Afghan crisis on a new trajectory.

BBC has been able to lay its hand on a secret report of NATO which has now been brought into the public domain. Coming at a sensitive time in Pakistan-NATO relations, the report notes that the Taliban in Afghanistan are being directly assisted by Pakistani security services. The leaked report, derived from thousands of interrogations, claims that the Taliban remain defiant and have wide support among the Afghan people. Indeed, it is painful reading for the international forces and the Afghan government.

A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman called the accusations “ridiculous”. “We are committed to non-interference in Afghanistan and expect all other states to strictly adhere to this principle,” Abdul Basit told the BBC. He added, “A stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in our own interests. We cannot indulge in any activity which takes us away from achieving that objective.”

The report alleges that Pakistan knows the location of senior Taliban leaders. “We have long been concerned about ties between elements of the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service) and some extremist networks,” said US Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby, adding that the US Defence Department had not yet seen the report.

The BBC’s Quentin Somerville in Kabul says the report — on the state of the Taliban — fully exposes for the first time the relationship between the ISI and the Taliban. It is based on material from 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters and civilians. Pakistan’s manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly. It says that Pakistan is aware of the locations of senior Taliban leaders. “Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad,” it said. It quotes a senior Al-Qaeda detainee as saying: “Pakistan knows everything. The Taliban are not Islam. The Taliban are Islamabad.”

BBC correspondent says the report seems to suggest that the Taliban feel trapped by ISI control and fear they will never escape its influence. However, it states: “As this document is derived directly from insurgents it should be considered informational and not necessarily analytical.”

Adm Mike Mullen, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has explained Pakistan’s closeness to the Afghan Taliban by pointing to infiltration of its army by the religious right, but he also says it is part of a grand strategy to increase leverage in the region via “proxies”.

Despite NATO’s strategy to secure the country with Afghan forces, the secret document details widespread collaboration between the insurgents and Afghan police and military. Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, said the document was “a classified internal document that is not meant to be released to the public”.

The report also depicts the depth of continuing support among the Afghan population for the Taliban. It paints a picture of Al-Qaeda’s influence diminishing but the Taliban’s influence increasing. Gen. Jack Keane, former US Army vice chief of staff commented: “They (Pakistan) provide resources, sanctuary… and training”

In a devastating conclusion, the document says that in the last year there has been unprecedented interest, even from members of the Afghan government, in joining the Taliban cause. It adds: “Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governance over the Afghan government, usually as a result of government corruption.” The report has evidence that the Taliban are purposely hastening NATO’s withdrawal by deliberately reducing their attacks in some areas and then initiating a comprehensive hearts-and-minds campaign.

It says that in areas where ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) has withdrawn, Taliban influence has increased, often with little or no resistance from government security forces. And in many cases, with the active help of the Afghan police and army.

The report says that surrender is far from their collective mind-set. “For the moment, they believe that continuing the fight and expanding Taliban governance are their only viable courses of action.”

According to the report, rifles, pistols and heavy weapons have been sold by Afghan security forces in bazaars in Pakistan.

The report adds that Taliban members “do not receive salaries or other financial incentives for their work”, but their operations are funded by the narcotics trade and they frequently take a cut from the trade. Their main revenue, though, is from donations, and they travel around the country from door to door making no secret of their affiliation, it says.

This then is the grim picture of Afghanistan and the role Pakistan is playing. The only change that is perceptible is that the Taliban chief has, in a recent statement, once again reiterated that he prefers a dialogue and an agreed solution of Afghan crisis. Ashraf Ghani government has deputed a team to Doha to engage the Taliban in bilateral talks. Several rounds of bilateral talks have been held but so far no concrete result has been achieved. A bilateral agreement between the two delegations is the right solution.

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