By Ali Paras March 16, 2023
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and DG ISI Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum in a meeting with Afghanistan’s acting Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. — Deputy Afghan Prime Minister’s Office
Image credit: MOFA Pakistan
By Ali Paras 16 March 2023
It is imperative to understand the chronology of major events and developments in last five decades to understand the position of Afghanistan and Pakistan with their associated security dilemmas. A brief gist highlights the turns of history in following pattern:
- Islamist fighters (Mujahideen) were created by US with help of Pakistan to fight against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
- After fall of Soviet, US abandoned these Mujahideens and Afghanistan. Civil war followed in Afghanistan between various war lords. Resultantly, an era of looting, killing and brutal violence began. With an aim to restore order and protect life and property, an indigenous movement/ revolution came into being led by an Islamic Madrassah Teacher, famously known as Mullah Umer, mainly with the support of his Talibs (Talib means student of Islamic school) That Taliban movement was largely successful in restoring order. Taliban enjoyed support from Pakistan and other Gulf Nations in suppressing the warlords and other resisting forces known as Northern Alliance who were mainly supported by remnants of erstwhile Soviet Union. Taliban were also supported by Arab Mujahids like Osama Bin Laden (OBL) who was trained by CIA against Soviets in Afghanistan prior to US invasion in 2001.
- Problem began once OBL founded Al-Qaida (AQ) to fight all global powers for their actions against Islamic countries. Taliban, though were against this international aspiration but still hosted OBL due to his financial support to Taliban/ his contribution in fighting against Soviets.
- 9/11 happened, OBL/ AQ took the responsibility. Taliban didn’t believe that OBL is behind it and demanded proofs from US and refused to hand him over.
- US invasion began with the help of militias of northern alliance, the arch rival of Taliban and old allies of Soviets. Now, Taliban were declared terrorists. Pakistan was made front line state (Non NATO partner) in the war against terrorism. Resultantly, there was a huge backlash in Pakistan by religious communities who were earlier trained and funded to support Taliban, mainly in its tribal belt (FATA) the border region with Afghanistan.
- Taliban withdrew from cities, went into mountains and rural areas to fight guerrilla war against NATO forces. US installed a puppet regime, hostile to Pakistan and Taliban but quite friendly to India.
- Now, for Pakistan, there were multifold challenges; important to mention is firstly to deal with a hostile Afghan Govt and 2nd to tackle the wave of terrorism/ reactions of Pakistani Taliban who earlier rose to support Afghan Taliban in war against US but later turned against Pakistani security forces for the reasons of its open support to US led forces. Afghan refugees also added in a burden which was already being born by Pakistan.
- Unstable Afghanistan also gave leverage to certain regional countries to play proxies/ regional games on its enemies. Like, as claimed by Pakistan, India funded TTP in Afghanistan (Tehrik Taliban Pakistan) to operate against Pakistan. TTP although different from Afghan Taliban in its ideology and execution but the use of same name as Taliban, created confusion among many in Pakistan and abroad.
- Arrival of TTP, ISIS, HeT and ISKP in Afghanistan brought bad name to the struggle of Taliban against US. Afghan Taliban renamed themselves as Emaraat-e Islami Afghanistan or Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan (IEA) thus distancing itself from TTP, AQ, ISIS and other militant groups who were also operating against Pakistan from Afghan soil. But there were credible evidences that some collaboration existed at tactical level between TTP and Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan (IEA).
- IEA (Afghan Taliban) were able to eliminate more ISIS elements from Afghanistan than US + NATO. At this point, US realized to reconcile with Afghan Taliban and peace talks started with help of Pakistan.
- US withdrew, IEA took over again and Pakistan hoped that it would get some respite with regards to TTP. As per Pakistani perspective, TTP was surviving on tacit support from Indian consulates in Afghanistan and past Afghan regime (Afghan Spy Agency, NDS).
- However, even after considerable time of consolidation of IEA regime in Afghanistan, there is a surge in TTP actions inside Pakistan.
Now after glance through the mentioned events of recent past, question arises that why Afghan Government of IEA is unable to control or suppress the TTP / other terrorist organizations like ISIS & ISKP. Because, that does not only pose a security challenge for neighboring Pakistan but seriously threatens the authority and control of Afghan Government which is struggling for international acceptance and financial support for its war-torn nation.
A rationale and dispassionate analysis hints out the reality that it is easy to fight a guerrilla war from mountains against an established government but it is really difficult to carry out cleansing operations against people of its own kind given the geography, demography and cultural dynamics of Afghanistan. Therefore, it is much beyond the capacity of Afghan Government to be asked for in case of Pakistan’s demands to act against TTP.
Moreover, Afghan government is also struggling for its domestic approval by common masses mainly non-Pashtun segments who are indoctrinated / fed against Pakistan by two decade of Indian propaganda/ reach of soft power. Hence, any pro-Pakistan stance or action will bring the mantra of Pakistani puppets in Afghan masses.
Pakistan having one of the strongest forces in the world as per Global Fire Power Index, could not eliminate terrorism from its bordering provinces of KPK and Balochistan, then how can it expect from a fragile afghan government which is in process of building its institutions.
What is the Possible Solution?
Pakistan and Afghanistan should initiate a grand dialogue process with evolution of some mechanism of intelligence sharing, joint operations in bordering region and surveillance means.
Both countries should reach out to other regional countries particularly China, Iran and Russia to advance regional security. Development of some peace force of friendly Islamic Nations (Turkey, Gulf & Pakistan) duly accepted by Afghanistan may be considered for supporting Afghan forces in operations against ISIS and TTP. That can also open door of international acceptance for Afghan Government.
Bilateral engagements should avoid any escalatory actions/ statements from both sides on any act of terrorism as it’s a common enemy for both so had to be dealt together instead of blaming each other.