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A day after the Taliban’s gun-toting militants entered Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani’s government collapsed, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan could not hide his glee. He was launching a government education programme in Islamabad on August 16 and ended up referring to the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan as people breaking “shackles of slavery”.
For the Taliban’s cheerleaders in Islamabad and at the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi, it’s indeed the time for celebration. Pakistan finally defeated America in Afghanistan with the help of America, just as Hamid Gul, the former chief of its military spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), had boastfully predicted way back in 2014. It’s now on the cusp of gaining in Afghanistan the long-cherished strategic edge against India.
Read more: How will we believe Taliban? Afghan student in Bengaluru says he will live through what he witnessed as a child
Pakistan’s signature is well etched in the blood-soaked history of Afghanistan, dating back to the 1970s when it started supporting the Islamists opposed to the Mohammad Daud Khan’s Government in Kabul – a dispensation that was backed by the Soviet Union. It helped the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States support the ‘Afghan Mujahideens’ to fight the Soviet Army, which had marched into Afghanistan in 1979. The mujahideens continued to receive support from Pakistan and the US even after the Soviet Army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Though the mujahideens came to power in Kabul through an accord signed at Peshawar in Pakistan in April 1992, the ISI was unhappy, as the new regime led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Massaoud was friendly to India. So it supported Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s offensive against the new Afghan Government, leading to a fierce conflict, which resulted in the death of about 50000 people in Kabul.
Also read: The Taliban in Kabul: Time India fortifies the guardrails
It was in mid-1990s that Pakistan’s Internal Security Minister Naseerullah Babar, a former military officer, asked the ISI to look for new assets in Afghanistan. So the ISI midwifed the Taliban, which was born with Pashtun Talibs or students of the seminaries set up for the refugees from Afghanistan in northern Pakistan. It soon spread its influence across southern and eastern Afghanistan. It occupied Kandahar in November 1994 and, with militants recruited, trained and armed by the ISI in Pakistan swelling its ranks, it took over Kabul in September 1996. Pakistan is among the few nations that continued diplomatic relations with the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which, led by its Amir al-Mu’minin, Mullah Omar, ran a medieval rule, enforcing a strict version of Shariah, banning TV, denying women’s rights to education and work, carrying out summary executions in public. The Taliban’s collusion with anti-India terror outfits based in Pakistan was evident during the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in December 1999.
The US and its NATO allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after Mullah Omar’s guest Osama Bin Laden coordinated the Al Qaeda’s 9/11 terror attacks. Omar fled to Quetta in Pakistan, where the ISI hosted him till his death in 2013 – two years after US NAVY SEALs hunted down Laden near Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.
Pakistan helped the Taliban, not only to survive over the past two decades, but also to regroup, even as it maintained the charade of supporting the NATO forces in its “war on terror” in Afghanistan and of facilitating the peace talks between the US and the militant organization. The ISI was so desperate to control the pace process that it had once got Omar’s successor Mullah Baradar arrested in Pakistan, only because he had started talks with Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan without taking its approval. Baradar eventually fell in line and, when he returned to negotiation with the US and Afghan Government in Doha, he had the blessings from Rawalpindi and Islamabad, which meticulously set the stage for his ascent to power in Kabul.
The Taliban’s imminent return to power in Kabul will give Pakistan its long-cherished “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. India’s development projects in Afghanistan and its popularity among people of the conflict-ravaged country has been giving jitters to Pakistan. Even if New Delhi does not severe its diplomatic relations with Kabul, the ISI will now try to make Taliban restrict India’s presence in Afghanistan and hit its strategic interests in Central Asia. The weapons and ammunitions the US supplied to the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces fell in the hands of the Taliban over the past few weeks and a part of the booty may soon find its way to the anti-India terrorist groups based in Pakistan, like the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. New Delhi has reasons to worry about the cascading effect of Taliban’s return to power on the security scenario in Kashmir. Islamabad will also try to scuttle India’s plans for connectivity through Afghanistan to Central Asia and Europe.
The celebrations in Rawalpindi and Islamabad are unlikely to last forever though. Pakistan may soon have to deal with a new wave of refugees from Afghanistan. The Taliban’s military offensives have brought it back to power in Kabul, but the warlords like Northern Alliance veterans, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Muhammad Noor, have not yet given up. Ghani’s Vice-President Amrullah Saleh has declared himself the caretaker president and is trying to mount a resistance against the Taliban. So, a new civil war may again break out in Afghanistan and the revival of the Covid-19-hit economy of Pakistan could be stymied by such uncertainty and instability in its western neighbourhood. The Taliban in Afghanistan has ideological links with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which had carried out the terrorist attack at the Army Public School at Peshawar in Pakistan on December 13, 2014 – killing 149 people, including 132 children. The TTP congratulated the Taliban after its militants entered Kabul on August 15 and the possibility of collusion between the two cannot be ruled out.
The monsters often turn against their masters, not only in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but in the real world too.
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