There is no room to debate about direct patronization and participation of Pakistan in creating devilish Taliban jihadists. Ever-since 1990, the Taliban has been heavily dependent on Pakistan’s notorious spy agency Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and its army. That the original cadre of the Taliban was the product of Pakistani madrasas, which are inspired by Wahhabi ideology is also an acknowledged fact. In return, the Taliban was seen by Islamabad as an instrument of Pakistan’s foreign and defense policy even if the Pakistani military was not always able to control it fully. Pakistan considers the Taliban as an effective tool in implementing terrorist agenda against India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. This strategy was aimed at creating enough mayhem in the Kashmir valley to tie down substantial Indian security forces, which could have been deployed on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and on the India-Pakistan border, in anti-insurgency operations. They were also used to stoke the fire of anti-Indian insurgency in the Kashmir valley. But Pakistan’s sponsoring the Taliban had ultimately turned out to be a double-edge razor. The blowback in terms of the proliferation of hardline Sunni Islamist groups, many of which were also sponsored by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), posed a threat to the Pakistani regime and especially to the all-powerful military.
Radical Islamic militancy groups such as Tehriki-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Haqqani network challenged Pakistani military’s monopoly of the instruments of force in the country and succeeded in carving out territories in the tribal belt that they control. This eventually led to major military crackdowns against these terrorist organizations in Swat and North and South Waziristan. The army succeeded in partially taming them but with great loss of life and massive human dislocation.
Even then, Pakistani military establishment as its political elites did not learn from these experiences of romancing with the Taliban and other jihadist forces. In the eyes of Pakistani military establishment in particular, a Taliban force that continues numerous forms of cruelty within Afghanistan was never a matter of concern as it did not threaten Pakistan’s domestic situation. At the same time, Pakistan has been extremely worried about the Taliban which was challenging the military’s monopoly of force within the country and acted as an alternative locus of power.
It should be mentioned here that, Islamabad allowed the Afghan Taliban leadership to use Quetta as their headquarters during their years of exile. It also facilitated their negotiations with the United States in Doha that would permit an orderly American withdrawal from Afghanistan without any hindrance by the Taliban. What the Pakistani establishment overlooked was that the Afghan and Pakistani jihadist groups had a symbiotic relationship in ideological terms and shared the same objectives of imposing sharia law and undermining “non-Islamic” rule by force if necessary, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite such realities, Pakistan’s reaction to the Taliban’s recent capture of power in Afghanistan continues to betray the same old mindset that distinguishes between the good and the bad Taliban. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan welcomed the Taliban victory by proclaiming that it had “broken the shackles of slavery” in Afghanistan. He was not alone in expressing satisfaction at the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Not only did the Pakistani religious parties congratulate the Taliban for their victory, but some cabinet ministers expressed unrestrained glee and compared the fall of Kabul to the fall of Saigon in 1975.
According to analysts, Taliban’s coming to power in Afghanistan is likely to be a pyrrhic victory for Islamabad for several reasons. The scramble to get out of Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban victory indicates that Pakistan could soon be faced by a massive influx of refugees which its shattered economy can ill afford. More importantly, jihadist groups in Pakistan can be expected to take heart from their Afghan counterparts’ victory and renew and intensify their efforts to challenge the Pakistani establishment and confront the Pakistani military by force once again.
Furthermore, despite the help rendered by Pakistan to the Taliban during their time in the political wilderness they are unlikely to be as pliant as Islamabad expects them to be. There are major economic compulsions, the need for international aid, in particular, that could force Taliban to live up to its commitment not to permit terrorists to use bases in the country. This could impact Pakistani plans to once again use Afghanistan as a training ground and safe haven for terrorist groups it hopes to use against Indian targets.