Pakistan-Taliban bonhomie under stress

The Afghans were not very happy with the creation of a dominion called Pakistan to the east of their country as a result of the partition of India in August 1947. They had more than one reason to be cheerless. The newly created dominion was the handiwork of the colonial power which the Afghans did not trust. The Durand Line drawn by the British meant dividing the Pukhtoon (Pashtun) community that lived on either side of the line. Afghans knew that “divide and rule” was the old game of the colonial power and the Durand Line had no other purpose for the British.

As the partition of India was becoming a reality and the province of Punjab was getting divided into two parts — the western part remaining with Pakistan and the eastern part joining India —- King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan aspired to capture the whole of NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) as part of the Afghan Kingdom with Peshawar as the capital city. He said that this was originally part of Afghan territory and ethnically, linguistically, culturally and historically the NWFP was part of the Afghan Kingdom. He asserted that the British colonialists had arbitrarily cut off the chunk of land and created a new province which they called North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). It was meant to serve as a buffer between the British Indian Territory and Afghanistan.

When the Pukhtoons (Pashtuns) of the NWFP resisted the British plan of Durand Line, the British initiated the old strategy of divide and rule as they had done in the case of Hindustan were nearly 560 semi-independent princely states were created and recognized by the Crown. The British rulers of India identified more powerful and influential sirdars meaning tribal chiefs in the NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) and negotiated a deal with them. At the time of partition of India on 15 August 1947, we are told that the British paid 7 crore rupees to the tribal chiefs for distribution among their clansmen against a commitment of not interfering or violating peaceful relations with the British Raj. This cheap strategy stands at the root of many debilities of the Afghan polity.

The practice of buying the tribal chiefs continued even after the British left. Pakistan’s government had initially accepted to offer annual cash doles to the tribal chiefs with no conditions whatsoever. Understandably, many Pukhtoon (Pashtun) tribal chiefs of various clans had accepted the suzerainty of the nascent dominion of Pakistan.

Nevertheless, the far-sighted Pukhtoon (Pashtun) leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was much influenced by Gandhian philosophy especially that of non-violence which he thought was an effective instrument of winning freedom from the foreign rule. He became an ardent supporter and political disciple of Gandhi and was given the title of “Frontier Gandhi”. His corps of volunteers called Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) discarded violence and eschewed the gun, which is no small a contribution by any far-sighted leader.

The treatment meted out by the creators of Pakistan to the Khudai Khidmatgar made the Afghans hate the Muslim League leaders who now ruled Pakistan. And lastly, the creation of a new state based on religion was reprehensible to the Afghans who, though deeply religious, had always tried to keep religion separated from politics.

The Taliban of Afghanistan are the creation of Pakistan, albeit with American approval. As lawlessness and disorder overtook Afghan polity in the aftermath of withdrawal of the Soviets in 1990, Pakistan convinced the Americans that the creation of a moralist force from among the mujahedeen would help restore law and order in war-torn Afghanistan. Washington caved in. Nobody knows how much American money flowed into Pakistan and where it went. The Taliban, headed by Mullah Omar of Kandahar was the alumni of a Karachi-based seminary. Initially, he posed as the head of a  moralist force. But then he emerged as a Pakistan-controlled and Pakistan-financed force that brutally liquidated President Dr. Najibullah and captured Kabul in 1996. Their hobnobbing with Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden dragged the US into the Afghan conundrum seeking to take revenge for the 9/11 attack and massacre in New York.

Taliban at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, after the withdrawal of US troops. (Photo: Reuters)
Taliban at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, after the withdrawal of US troops. (File Photo: Reuters)

After two decades of fighting against the Afghan Taliban gorillas, the US ignominiously withdrew from war-torn Afghanistan, once again proving the axiom that Afghanistan is the graveyard of world empires. Pakistan, which had committed to be on the side of Americans in the war against terror was functioning as the main covert supporter of the Afghan Taliban in their war against the US plus NATO troops.

Finally, on 15 August 2021 the Afghan Taliban with the national army contingents surrendering to them one after another province, and supported by Pakistani troops in civilian mufti, managed to oust the elected government of Ashraf Ghani and establish the Taliban administration for the second time.

Pakistan emerged as the biggest gainer from this complex political scenario. She succeeded in getting the elected government in Kabul ousted and replaced it by the theocratic and radical regime of the Taliban which suits her interests. Pakistan also succeeded in ousting India and India’s influence in Afghanistan as it was sore in her eye. Indian nationals, the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghan nationality were forced to leave Afghanistan. Now with their hand-picked government in Kabul Pakistani rulers and intelligence sleuths thought of prompting the victorious and heroic Taliban of Afghanistan to turn their guns on Kashmir and win Kashmir for Pakistan. Acting under the prompting of ISI, the representative of the Haqqani network even stated that after Kabul, Kashmir was their agenda. Pakistan gloated on its one-upmanship in her rivalry with India. She had come close to her long ambition of political space westward.

As the Taliban began stabilizing their regime in Kabul after early hiccups, we noted sudden escalation in terrorist-related activities in Kashmir Valley, particularly in South Kashmir. It was matched by the surcharged anti-India spite exuded by the almost defunct valley leadership that once used to be considered the regional mainstream parties. In a state of frustration, the  Gupkar Alliance (nicknamed by sadists as Gupkar Gang) was forged in the name of unity by those who had been till then seeking each other’s blood. “Talk to Pakistan” was their refrain and somehow grabbing political power was their ultimate aim. In reality, Gupkar Alliance was, it still is, a pack of confused rabble-rousers that’s completely out of tune with the times.

However, astute Indian leadership took a patient and considered view of the situation that was unfolding in the region. It was in no haste to react to the fast-changing scene on the chessboard of Afghan politics. Indian Minister of External Affairs silently got into touch with the more responsible Taliban sources and their advisers. At least it became possible to elicit a simple statement from Taliban sources that their regime wanted normal relations with all and that the Taliban would follow the tradition of not allowing their land to be used for attacks on a third country.

India has a good understanding of the mind of the Afghans. The Taliban need not be told repeatedly that India, a traditionally friendly country, had made a substantial investment in providing Afghanistan with some vital infrastructure, roads, bridges, construction work, dams, healthcare assistance, banking and many other services. They are aware that despite the sincere contribution of India, some activists of the Haqqani network indulged in anti-India acts of violence like attacks on the Indian mission in Kabul and Jalalabad and other assets. This was done at the behest of Pakistan.

Hardly three months have passed when the Taliban assumed power in Kabul. A cursory glance of Pakistan – Afghanistan relations reveals that the bonhomie has begun to sour. The Durand Line is the bone of contention between the two countries. Afghans of all denominations, faith, sect, ethnicity, ideology, language and lifestyle etc. are united in opposing the implementation of the Durand Line in a way it has been drawn. Against this, Pakistan leaves no stone unturned to ensure that the Durand Line remains in place. Thus bone of contention is not disappearing easily and as the Taliban consolidate their position, the chances of a standoff between the two will become brighter.

The UN has appealed to the international community to save Afghanistan from impending hunger and famine. It is about a month that India approached Pakistan to allow Indian trucks laden with wheat to pass through its highway to Kabul. The Taliban foreign minister Muttaqi personally visited Islamabad to implore Pakistani authorities that the Indian trucks carrying fifty thousand metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan be allowed to pass on humanitarian ground. Pakistani die-hards do not budge. It shows that religion is no criterion of relationship.

In yet another act of humanism, India airlifted large consignments of anti-Covid vaccine to Kabul. The Taliban have expressed their thanks to India for the humanitarian gift.

There have been skirmishes between the Taliban and Pakistani troops when the Taliban discovered that Pakistanis were trying to fence the Durand Line with barbed wire. Taliban uprooted the poles and dismantled the fence line. They warned Pakistan that it should forget fencing the border along the Durand Line. Some soldiers of the Pakistan Army guarding the border are reported to have lost their lives in the melee. Pakistan has offered to sit around a table and discuss the issue. The Prime Minister’s Security Adviser is reported to be visiting Kabul to initiate the talks.

The Taliban spokesman Zabihulah Mujahid said in a press conference that Kabul will not allow interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan at any cost. Hence, we see that shock aftershock is what Pakistan is receiving from the side of the Taliban.

The ground situation in the region is fast changing. One inference that is loud and clear is that Afghanistan is not going to allow any country to use its soil for launching attacks on a third country. It is a saddening message for the self-styled stakeholders in the Afghan crisis. Moreover, India’s relations with Afghanistan will steadily revive; both sides will strive to remain allies against the rise of terrorist and barbaric forces that are patently anti-human.

Prof. K.N. Pandita
Prof. K.N. Pandita
Prof. K.N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir. Prof. Pandita was awarded Padma Shri by the Government of India for his contribution in the field of literature and education.

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