The collapse of the Kabul government and the Taliban’s rapid takeover of nearly all of Afghanistan has captured the attention of the world. It has led to widespread discussion of US imperial
retreat, the implications for the global contest between the US and China, and the possibilities of a revival of global Sunni Islamist terror.
An element that has been largely missing
in Western analysis of these dramatic events is the role of powerful elements within Pakistan in facilitating the activities of the Taliban in recent years. Yet without this complex and multi-faceted Pakistani role, it is difficult to see how the Afghan jihadi
movement could have sustained itself during the years of US occupation, and laid the foundations for the rapid takeover of power that we have just witnessed.
Pakistani Prime Minister
Imran Khan praised the Taliban victory in a statement earlier this week as “breaking the shackles of slavery.”
The US and its allies have consistently chosen to turn a blind
eye to evidence of the Taliban presence in Pakistan, and Islamabad’s apparent assistance to the movement.
This decision relates to the US and its allies’ dependence on Pakistan
as a vital logistics hub in its deployment in Afghanistan. Pakistani intelligence support was important in deciphering the dynamics of militant Islamic movements in this area.
a reluctance to antagonize Pakistan, a nuclear power with a population of 200 million, traditionally aligned with the US, probably played a role in this attitude of benevolent neglect. US reluctance to place pressure on Pakistan, paradoxically, may have been
exacerbated by widespread anti-American sentiment in Pakistan at the popular level, and an American desire not to worsen it.
This resulted in a situation in which Pakistan came to constitute
both a vital node in the prosecution of the US campaign against the Taliban, and a central element in the Taliban’s war effort against the US, with the apparent acquiescence of Washington.
The Taliban leadership is domiciled in the city of Quetta, in Pakistani Balochistan. The movement’s fighters, alongside members of other Sunni jihadi groups including al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network, maintain havens in the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border, crossing back and forth to Afghanistan at will, with no interference from the Pakistani armed forces. These areas were the springboard for the recent campaign that culminated in Kabul. Taliban fighters wounded in the recent
campaign were treated in Pakistani hospitals, according to a June 27 statement by Sheikh Rashed Ahmed, Pakistan’s interior minister, to the Pakistani Geo news website.
to the logistical role, these majority Pashtun border areas are home to thousands of madrassas, Islamic religious seminaries, in which the hard-line Deobandi interpretation of Sunni Islam favored by the Taliban is propagated. In this way, the pool of future
fighters for the Afghan Taliban is maintained, on Pakistani soil.
A resident of Kuchlak, 25km from Quetta, noted in an interview with Voice of America this week that the Taliban maintains
considerable support among the residents of the area, and that “Locals from all the tribes (living in the town) are with them, saying that they are conducting jihad to establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan’s deposed vice president Amrullah Saleh, along with other members of the deposed Ghani government, have alleged that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistani Special Forces
were directly guiding the Afghan Taliban.
Such allegations are routinely denied by the Pakistani authorities and are impossible to prove conclusively. But the weight of evidence regarding
the presence of the Taliban in the border areas, their ease of access, the provision of available health care, and statements of support by senior officials seem to confirm a role of elements within the Pakistani state in the recent Taliban victory.
What are the motivations behind the Pakistani role?