The situation in Afghanistan today has the global community concerned and anxious about developments in the region and the likely negative fall-out of the same.
Analysts have been digging up assessments of varying nature on the likely course the situation in Afghanistan would take in the coming days. There is a high degree of uncertainty on the manner in which the government would ensure a safe and secure Afghanistan.
In such situations, there is a tendency for the global community to forget those responsible for creating such crises outsmarting all stakeholders. In the case of Afghanistan, finding the true perpetrators of the creation of today’s Afghanistan is the big question.
Pakistan has been quick enough to portray itself as the lone player left in the field to deal with the Afghan mess while the US abandoned the complex situation in the country. Pakistan has also been building on the sympathy narrative that it remains at the forefront of defending the world from the spread of terrorism – a line it intends to sustain in order to win the support of the larger international community. It projects itself as the savior of the world by being on the frontline of the war against terrorism and calibrating the Taliban to ensure peace and stability.
While Pakistan does not want to be seen as associated with the Taliban, at the same time it has no choice but to portray its linkages with the Taliban so as to uphold the mantle of ensuring security in Afghanistan.
The fact, however, remains that Pakistan has been solely responsible for creating the prevailing volatile situation in Afghanistan over the years as part of its policy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan. It has consistently indulged in extending support to US operations in Afghanistan while, at the same time, remaining deeply involved with the Taliban.
This duplicitous game of Pakistan was well known to the US from the very beginning but the US was focused on their targets on the ground in Afghanistan to which they could not gain access without the assistance of Pakistan.
Ironically, while Pakistan played along with the Americans in Afghanistan to ensure a constant flow of aid and other forms of support, at the same time, they provided resources and logistical support base for the Taliban.
Pakistan has also mastered well the art of psychological warfare as one saw a flurry of activities involving Pakistani officials and ministers feverishly engaging critical foreign contacts soon after the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, ostensibly to ensure that there is no adverse fallout of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan impacting Pakistan’s international image.
In fact, on the contrary, Pakistan went on a PR overdrive all across using their Ambassadors and critical contacts abroad to project themselves as being left in the lurch and having to defend itself and the world against any volatile situation being created in Afghanistan. They would thus vie for aid and assistance from international organizations and western countries building on this narrative.
A number of American politicians have rightly claimed that the war in Afghanistan would have ended long ago if Pakistan denied safe havens to the Taliban.
While sheltering and hosting the Taliban, Pakistan has ignored the fact that with a strong radical Islamic undercurrent prevailing in the country and political instability being endemic, the possibility of hardcore radical elements supported by the Taliban taking over the reins of the country in Islamabad cannot be ruled out.
The Central Asian state of Tajikistan went through a 5 year period of civil war from 1992 to 1997 due to the involvement of Taliban cadres in the internal political conflict in Tajikistan.
Strengthening the hands of the Taliban could lead to the possibility of radical groups in Pakistan taking over control of the government and eventually, nuclear weapons. While this may or may not become a reality, but Pakistan has also been using this narrative to put the fear among western nations to draw support in the form of resources and financial aid.
Then-President Pervez Musharraf was able to convince the larger global community that Al Qaeda was a threat to Pakistan’s stability. From time to time, Pakistan’s security officials have also played the narrative that hijacking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons by terrorists were their worst nightmare. The terror-nuclear axis has thus been played well by Pakistan.
Over a period of time, Pakistan has thus managed to successfully play this manipulative game attracting significant assistance from the West. Between 2002 to 2020, playing on the “war on terror” narrative, Pakistan elicited around $ 33 billion in US assistance.
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Steve Cole, in his book “Directorate S”, describes the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) – essentially reimbursements to Pakistan – as “legal bribery” of the general. A US Committee heard the story of how Pakistan presented bills for $70 million on road and bunker construction without any evidence that it was ever done, $19,000 for use of each naval vehicle, and $55 million spent for the maintenance of helicopters which remained in total disrepair.
A lot of that went into various pockets. At the institutional level, CSF funds were used to buy conventional weapons for use against India, with the State Department classifying even the F-16 as counter-terrorism weaponry.
On a separate note, a number of incidents have taken place with Pakistani nationals carrying out attacks in different locations across the world but this never led to pressure from the international community on the Pakistani administration because of the inter-dependability of aid and security.
As far as use of dubious means and tactics used by Pakistan is concerned, one cannot forget how Pakistan managed to create its nuclear weapons through covert channels. Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan even catered uranium centrifuge to Iran besides training Iranian scientists in multiple areas.
While the world today tries to deal with the Iranian nuclear program, which poses a threat to the West, Pakistan’s complicity in critical contribution towards the project seems to have gone unnoticed.
Pakistan has thus escaped strong retribution due ironically to its own instability, with terrorists becoming the currency of exchange and barter. Its nuclear weapons have also been turned into a source of currency, while it used all the blackmail and double-dealing to back one apparent ally at the expense of another, and all of this for more than 20 years.
The US military and security establishment is well aware of the extent to which Pakistan has been responsible for causing damage to the US military in Afghanistan and intentionally bringing a bad name to the US compelling it to withdraw fast from Afghanistan.
One cannot forget the shock of 9/11 when US officials threatened to bomb Pakistan back into the “stone age” and which led to Pakistani Army “advisors” speedily exiting Afghanistan. The part of the war did actually end in a week. It restarted again, as the US turned to Iraq, and left the war to Pakistan.