After 20 years of being willfully mislead by Pakistan, the Western world led by the US has still not come to terms with the fact that it has been taken for a ride Afghanistan. Even at this late stage when the Taliban is rapidly advancing towards Kabul and sweeping aside all resistance and nearly 14 provincial capitals have fallen to the Taliban and the Kunduz based Army Corps has surrendered, the US and its allies are still indulging in pointless ‘peace talks’, issuing unconvincing statements, and making utterly unrealistic threats to the Taliban who had many years ago been correctly labeled as the ‘wrong enemy’. Meanwhile, the ‘real enemy’ – Pakistan – is continuing to play its games of deception with the West by pretending to be behind a dialogue and negotiated settlement though on the ground it is doubling down behind the Taliban war effort. Significantly it is getting away with it.
For Pakistan, the Taliban have always been their first and only choice in Afghanistan. Right from the time the Taliban erupted on the scene in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis have backed them with men, material, money, and military advice and assistance. The Taliban were armed by the ISI which gave them the keys to a huge arms dump in Spin Boldak. Later, they directed and planned the Taliban military offensive against the Mujahideen regime that came into power in 1992. After the Taliban captured Kabul, Pakistan was the first government to recognize their rule. Throughout the five year long regime, the Pakistanis backed the Taliban diplomatically and even financially, not to mention militarily. After 9/11, the Pakistanis not only rescued the Taliban by opening up their border and giving them sanctuary but also airlifting them from Kunduz, within the knowledge of the powers of the day. The Pakistanis then rebuilt the movement and kept a tight control over it. After investing in them for over 20 years, only someone completely devoid of rational thought process will think that the Pakistanis will do anything to stall or steal victory from the Taliban. In short, the Pakistanis see Taliban victory in Afghanistan as their own victory.
Everything else – the spin that Pakistan is concerned about the Taliban monopolizing power, Pakistan is pushing the Taliban to the dialogue table and pressuring them to accept a power sharing agreement, that Pakistan has lost its leverage and is frustrated over the obduracy of the Taliban – is just so much pretence and hype. If anything, it is all classic Pakistani doublespeak to mislead the West, string it along until the objective reality is changed on the battlefield, and to ensure there is no untoward reaction against Pakistan’s involvement on the side of the Taliban. The Pakistanis have manufactured a dual narrative : internally, it is gloating and triumphal that it has defeated another superpower, that it has scored a huge strategic win, that it has ousted all its enemies (read India and US) from Afghanistan, that it has proved “Allah is the only superpower, it has dealt another blow for Islam and so on and so forth. This narrative is to cement the public opinion behind the Taliban. Pushing this narrative is the government and the ruling party which was also behind the twitter trend #TalibanOurGuardians. Government ministers and even the President have been lauding the Taliban. Externally, Pakistan is wringing its hands in fake despair, pretending that a Taliban victory will despoil Pakistan’s strategic environment, preaching the virtues of peace, dialogue and political solution and so on and so forth. Shockingly, the Americans have either not caught on to the Pakistani double-game, or are quite indulgent, even supportive, or simply don’t give a damn about being double-crossed by the Pakistanis.
What is even more appalling is the fact that even when the writing on the wall is clear, and there is overwhelming evidence that Pakistan is fuelling the war, the Americans and their allies are still putting everything in the store of diplomacy and peace talks. Even a novice can tell that neither Pakistan nor the Taliban are interested in any kind of a negotiated settlement. If anything, any stalling or stopping of the Taliban military machine would be disastrous for the Pakistanis and their Taliban proxies. What the Pakistanis are playing for is the Taliban capturing Kabul as soon as possible. This will confront the world with fait accompli. Some countries will refuse to recognize the Taliban regime. But there will be countries like China, and perhaps Russia, some of the Central Asian States and Iran which along with Pakistan will accept Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. Game, set and match to Pakistan and Taliban.
A stalled or stopped military offensive, even if this were possible at this stage of the war, especially with the Taliban on the cusp of victory, will mean a prolonged conflict that will put paid to all of Pakistan’s grand plans in Afghanistan. For both Pakistan and its patron China, the Taliban are the answer to their large strategic play in the region. With Afghanistan under Taliban, the Pakistan’s believe that they will be able to connect to Central Asia and emerge as the hub of regional trade and transit. For the Chinese, their investment in CPEC will suddenly have some chance of becoming viable. Since the Taliban will be dependent on both China and Pakistan, they will have to ensure that any and every threat emanating from inside Afghanistan against these two countries will be eliminated. With its western borderlands settled, Pakistan can shift its focus and back to confrontation with India, using Afghanistan as the terror factory against India.
Many analysts scoff at these rather grandiose plans. There are just too many moving parts for this grand strategy to actually translate into something workable on ground – just too many slips between the cup and the lip, and anything or even everything could go horribly wrong. But the generals in Rawalpindi don’t see it the same way. They believe that this kind of alarmism is unwarranted and that they have thought everything through. But this is precisely what the generals in Rawalpindi say before and during every act of adventurism, and it all back fires in the end because they have not ever really thought things through.
While it is clear that the American and their allies are not going to reverse their decision to abandon Afghanistan, they are still in a position to exact a heavy price from Pakistan for its role in the monumental tragedy that has been inflicted on Afghanistan. For this to happen the US must realize that Pakistan is the real “spoiler” in Afghanistan and the region and Chinese support has only emboldened it. It is the country that is destabilizing the South Asian region and its actions will have an impact in the CAR’s and Russia (though China believes it has bought peace by linking with Pakistan and Afghanistan to secure its western autonomous region and the also the CPEC). In this scenario the US will have to come out of its and not be diffident or unsure and show the political will to use its enormous power and leverages. The Pakistanis and the Taliban are aware of the US diffidence and fatigue and will not do anything voluntarily to deliver on peace and stability in Afghanistan. The next few weeks will inform us of what kind world the US wants to see emerge and deal with. But inside Afghanistan, the Pakistanis are unlikely to pull any punches to stops the Taliban juggernaut and ensure that the group is firmly ensconced in power in Kabul.