Everything that was achieved in Afghanistan over the last two decades has turned to dust in just the first couple of months of Taliban rule. After the Taliban occupied the county in mid-August last, the speed at which the Afghan state and institutions have unravelled is as breath-taking as the speed with which the Islamic Republic disintegrated. Even the time taken for both events is similar – it took about four months starting May last for the Islamic Republic to unravel, and it has taken four months since the Taliban takeover for the country to collapse into hunger, widespread joblessness, an economic meltdown, an exodus of all qualified and educated people, administrative chaos, an arbitrary legal and justice system, and everything else that is associated with a classic failed state. The world is watching a disaster unfold in Afghanistan. But it is neither able to do anything to stop it from happening, nor able to pressure and penalise the architects of this disaster – Pakistan. Far from it, many countries continue to see Pakistan both as a solution to as well as a potential victim of the social, cultural, political, economic, and security implosion taking place in Afghanistan. The reality is however completely contrary to the way the world is looking at it. The problem in Afghanistan for the last four decades is Pakistan and to look at it as either a solution or a victim is nothing short of being delusional.
Over the last 20 years, when Afghanistan had its best chance of becoming a normal state and the entire world was pouring in money to re-develop the country, Pakistan was busy giving sanctuary, support, weapons, training, tactical advice, even opening financial conduits for the Taliban terrorists. Since around 2004, the Pakistanis were actively involved in fuelling the Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan. Fledging efforts to start a dialogue and a reconciliation process were all sabotaged by Pakistan. It put its weight behind the most vicious, ruthless, brutal elements in the Taliban – the internationally proscribed Haqqani Network. That the Haqqanis were closely linked not just with Al Qaeda but also with other international Islamist terror groups from China to Chechnya never really bothered the Pakistanis who believe they can control these groups.
The Pakistanis ensured that the Haqqani Network was inserted into the top Taliban hierarchy, especially after the death of Mullah Omar. His successor Mansour, who was not installed as Omar’s successor but also aided in consolidating his position by Pakistan, was only too happy to oblige his patrons in the ISI. It was around this time that the Haqqanis’ power and influence in the Taliban ranks started growing. After Mansour was killed in a drone strike, his successor Haibatullah appointed Sirajuddin Haqqani as the deputy Amir. Using this position, the Haqqanis became the most powerful faction in the Taliban. The Haqqanis’ links with Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups gave them an edge over the other factions of Taliban. When the fall of Kabul was imminent, there was a sort of race between the Haqqanis and other factions to control Kabul. The Pakistanis could not afford Kabul falling to the Kandharis which would leave Pakistan out in the cold as had happened twice in the past. The first
was when the Najibullah government fell and the Panjshiris captured Kabul leaving Pakistan’s favourite Gulbadin Hekmatyar out in the cold. The second time was when despite assurances by the US to Islamabad, the Panjshiris captured Kabul after the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. The Pakistanis were not going to let this happen a third time and therefore they pushed the Haqqanis to capture Kabul, and with it seize control over the levers of power in Afghanistan.
If this power tussle within the Taliban ranks was only about which faction got the lion’s share, there wouldn’t have been a major problem. The trouble is that the Haqqanis’ are the most radical, most extreme, uncompromising, element in the Taliban. Their extremism is one of the main reasons why the Taliban regime is not ready to moderate its policies as per the wishes and demands of the international community. Add to this their continuing association and active assistance to international terror groups. This factor has caused serious concerns among a host of countries that would otherwise be open to aiding and engaging the Taliban regime.
Even though the OIC held an extraordinary meeting to channel humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, there was hardly any country that pledged funds to the Trust Fund that was set up at the conference held in Islamabad. One big reason for that is that most OIC countries are extremely apprehensive about the signals that a Taliban regime sends around the Islamic world. If such a regime was to consolidate, it would give ideas to radical Islamist groups in their countries, something they would all like to avoid. And if all this weren’t enough, the fact that the Haqqanis, who now occupy pivotal positions in the new dispensation and remain on the UN Sanctions List, has become a major obstacle in providing assistance to the Islamic Emirate.
While Pakistan has complicated things in Afghanistan by foisting the “veritable arm of the ISI” on the hapless Afghans, its own agenda on Afghanistan is only adding to the existing problems. Pakistan is literally treating Afghanistan as a fifth province and wants everything – aid, funds, project finance – to be routed through Islamabad. This would give Pakistan considerable leverage in Afghanistan and strengthen its stranglehold over Kabul. However, there is a lot of resistance to this from the international community. Even the OIC, despite its fault lines and divisions, is not ready to trust Pakistan and has decided to route its assistance through the Islamic Development Bank. Pakistan meanwhile is clamouring for release of the frozen Afghan foreign exchange reserves. The anticipation in Pakistan is that the $9.5 billion reserves, if released, will once again help bolster Pakistan’s precarious finances because given the complete collapse of the banking system in Afghanistan this money will be channelled through the Pakistani banking system. Until and unless Afghanistan is freed from the malign and baleful influence and interference of Pakistan, even the best intentioned aid and relief program will fail. What is even worse is that ignoring the predicament in which the Afghan people find themselves is to try and give them some succour through Pakistan, the country which is primarily responsible for the mess in Afghanistan. The world community probably would be willing to
work with the Taliban but to do that the perfidious role of Pakistan in perpetuating a radical approach by the regime would have to end and the links between the two snapped irreversibly. However, if the international community allows itself to be taken in by Pakistan’s insincere entreaties on behalf of Afghan people, then it will only end up making a bad situation worse in Afghanistan.