Should Islamabad be worried?
When I was, luckily, released from Taliban captivity, I first sought help to return to Pakistan safely. In the time of the Afghan-American war, when American soldiers were advancing, however, the Spin Boldak-Chaman border in Kandahar was in the control of the Taliban fighters. Not only the border, even cross-border free movement surprised me.
If a local Taliban commander didn’t allow me to get in his jeep and place me beside him for bringing me to Chaman, a small bordering city of Balochistan, by crossing the border in front of the two countries’ border guards, I might not have seen Pakistan’s two-pronged role in the war of 2001.
I was not only thinking about Pakistan’s dual roles -- Islamabad is Washington’s main ally in the War on Terror. They were working together to overthrow the Taliban government. President General Pervez Musharraf had repeatedly said that the Taliban had no chance of coming to Pakistan. The border was “completely sealed” -- even crows could not fly over it. Moreover, they had given their land to the Americans to oust the Taliban. On the contrary, they were giving important Taliban leaders hidden shelters in Pakistan -- how can one imagine it!
However, the Pakistani government was an ally of the United States in the War on Terror, it was clear to journalists that common Pakistanis had widespread sympathy for the Taliban. That’s why I can realize Pakistan’s 20-year-old complex relationship with the Taliban.
During my newscasting days, the report of my captivity by the Taliban was sent a day later to the Daily Ajker Kagoj where I used to work. After leaving Pakistan, I could reveal how I entered Pakistan’s soil, so that moment I remain silent.
Many Taliban leaders took refuge in Pakistan in 2001 when the US invaded Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban regime. So, the question is, since the Taliban believe in separatism and want to create Pashtunistan with the Pakistani Taliban, what was the reason for Pakistan to give them asylum at that time? Why had they supported the Taliban for so long, even today? The main reason was India.
From Hamid Karzai to Ashraf Ghani, the governments that the US established in Afghanistan by overthrowing the Taliban were the puppet governments of the United States, and the rulers were pro-India in regional politics. Earlier, Soviet-backed Afghan governments were also influenced by India. During my visit to Kabul after the war, I saw how pro-government Northern Alliance people hated Pakistanis and spread hatred against Pakistan during the Hamid Karzai government. The Afghan government depended on India for everything, including trade and commerce.
Another primary reason for Pakistan’s closeness to the Taliban was to prevent Pashtun nationalism in the country. They think that if they support the Taliban government, the Pashtun movement can be suppressed. Again, the Taliban government will not support the separatist movement of the Pashtuns. The Taliban government will not do anything to hurt Pakistan, because they know that to be internationally acceptable, they first need the support of neighbouring Pakistan.
Pakistan is their all-time trusted friend.
Even now, a political branch of the Taliban is called Quetta Shura. They are sheltered in Quetta, Pakistan. On July 14, 2021, the day the Taliban captured the Spin Boldak-Chaman border from Afghan government forces, the Taliban marched in victory in Quetta city.
The Taliban are now talking about concessions on women’s rights, promising to form an inclusive government with all ethnicities, and have promised media freedom -- all in favour of Pakistan and the international community. They are even talking about providing security for minorities so that the international community does not call them a terrorist organization and think of them as different from the Taliban of 20 years ago. They have already received green signals from China, Russia, Turkey, and Pakistan for government recognition.
But despite all this, it is unfortunate for Pakistan that the way this Taliban ideology is growing up in Pakistan is destabilizing Pakistan’s internal politics. The September 18, 2015 attacks on the Air Force Base in Peshawar, the terrorist attack on the Karachi International Airport on June 9, 2014, and the terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014 were all carried out by Pakistani Taliban terrorists.
These groups will now be inspired by the Taliban’s Afghan occupation, led by the TTP or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The TTP is a section of the Taliban who are much more potent in small groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas and want to avenge the attacks on them by the Pakistan Army with the help of US forces. They have been attacking various government installations at different times. The Pakistan Army weakened them a lot, but since the Taliban are fighting in the name of the “Army of Allah,” they are getting the support of the fanatics.
Not only that, the rise of the Taliban will also increase the morale and recklessness of Pakistan’s Islamist parties -- such as Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan or the TLP. In his initial response to the Taliban’s occupation in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said: “Afghans have broken the shackles of slavery.” But the Taliban would pose several dangers to his government.
Recently, many development projects of its ally China were attacked on Pakistani soil, and Chinese workers were murdered. If this horrible situation goes on, it would be difficult for Pakistan to keep China beside them; and Chinese could step back from the mega-project called Belt and Road Initiative on security grounds.
Anis Alamgir is a journalist and columnist, with an interest in Iraq and Afghanistan. Contact: [email protected]